Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns (Explained In Simple Terms)

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Spanish Indirect Object Pronouns (Explained In Simple Terms)

Indirect object pronouns can be a challenging aspect of Spanish for some.

There are many rules to get accustomed to if you want to learn and use them well, and it can feel difficult to understand everything as a beginner.

Do you want to be fluent in Spanish?

Despite being difficult to master, indirect object pronouns are a critical part of Spanish grammar.

In the guide below, I’ve simplified it for you.

What is a Spanish indirect object pronoun?

A Spanish indirect object pronoun is a small word that replaces an indirect pronoun. Indirect object pronouns indicate who or what the verb’s action is being completed for, without repeating the person or object’s name.

To clearly understand what these pronouns are, let’s consider and analyse the following sentence:

Listen to audio

Quería comprarle una casa.

I wanted to buy him a house.

This sentence has a few main parts, but we can “dissect” it.

There’s the main verb, comprar, which tells us the key action happening in the sentence. There’s the direct object, una casa.

But before this direct object, we have an indirect object pronoun, the small le stuck on the end of the verb comprar.

This pronoun le tells us that the verb’s action is being completed for “him”.

An indirect object pronoun is important because it substitutes the indirect object of a sentence, which is usually a person’s name, a noun, or a thing.

What are the six Spanish indirect object pronouns?

The six Spanish indirect object pronouns are listed below in the following table.

It’s a bit of a challenge, but practice as much as possible to try and remember these indirect pronouns:

SpanishEnglish
Me(to or for) Me
Te(to or for) You
Le(to or for) Him/Her
Nos(to or for) Us
Os(to or for) You (all)
Les(to or for) Them

It can be helpful to add the word “to” before the Spanish pronoun, as this will help you know who the action is being completed to or for.

While learning about indirect object pronouns, it’s important to learn what indirect objects are as well.

Continue reading to find out what these are.

What is a Spanish indirect object?

A Spanish indirect object is a person or item for which an action is done or a person or item receiving an action.

As mentioned, you can replace an indirect object with an indirect object pronoun to make speaking more fluid and less repetitive; consider this sentence to find out more about Spanish indirect objects:

Listen to audio

Le compró un anillo inscrito para su novia.

He bought an inscribed ring for his girlfriend.

In this sentence, the indirect object is su novia, because the action is being done for her.

What’s the easiest way to know who the indirect object is?

The simplest way to know the indirect object is to ask yourself a question:

“Who is the person or object who is receiving the action of the verb in this sentence?”

We can apply this method to an example to better understand it:

Listen to audio

Te dio una bolsa para hacer la compra.

I gave you a bag to do the shopping.

When we look at this sentence, we can see the main verb is dio.

So, to know who the indirect object is, consider who receives the action of this verb.

In this case, the indirect object is te, meaning “you”.

Where are Spanish indirect object pronouns placed in a sentence?

You can place Spanish indirect object pronouns in two main parts of a sentence.

You can choose between adding it to the end of an infinitive verb or putting it before a conjugated verb.

Check out the following sentences as examples:

Listen to audio

Voy a darte una bolsa para hacer la compra.

I'm going to give you a bag to do the shopping.
Listen to audio

Te doy una bolsa para hacer la compra.

I'm going to give you a bag to do the shopping.

As you can see, both of these sentences mean the same thing.

The indirect object pronoun is located in two different locations, but they both mean “I’m going to give you a bag to do the shopping”.

Even though the meaning doesn’t change, it’s important to recognise that they can feature in different places.

Spanish speakers may use different structures and place them in different parts of the sentence, so try to be aware of this.

How do we use indirect object pronouns with emphasis?

You have the option of adding emphasis to your sentences when using indirect object pronouns.

To do this, you just need to add an extra clause, which is a el, or a ella.

See the examples below to see how you should use these extra clauses.

Listen to audio

Les pagaron diez euros a ellos.

They paid ten euros to them.
Listen to audio

Le escribió una carta a él.

He wrote a letter to him.

As you may notice, the structure of these sentences is slightly different.

The extra clause is optional, but you can add it to the end of your sentences if you want to emphasise who receives the action.

It’s a bit like adding italics to the indirect object.

Why use Spanish indirect object pronouns?

The main reason you should use Spanish indirect object pronouns is to avoid long-winded sentences or repeating yourself.

Consider the difference between these Spanish sentences, and you’ll see what I mean:

Listen to audio

Compré un pastel para mi suegra.

I bought a cake for my mother-in-law.
Listen to audio

Le compré un pastel.

I bought her a cake.

You’ll notice the pronoun le features in the second example.

This ”le” replaces the entire second half of the first sentence.

You no longer need to say para mi suegra, and you can skip this part entirely!

Are there Spanish verbs that always take an indirect object pronoun?

The short answer to this is, yes, you’ll certainly find that there are some Spanish verbs for which you must always use an indirect object pronoun.

Here’s a list of the main verbs that always take an indirect object pronoun:

  • Gustarle: The verb gustar in its infinitive form means “to like” and can take the indirect object pronouns including the following six options: me, te, le, nos, os, les to change the direct object.
  • Encantarle: The verb encantar in its infinitive form means “to love”, and it can take the indirect object pronouns including the following six options: me, te, le, nos, os, les to change the direct object.
  • Hacerle falta: The verb hacerle falta means “to make need”, and it can take the indirect object pronouns including the following six options: me, te, le, nos, os, les to change the direct object.
  • Importarle: The verb importarle means “to care (about) and can take the indirect object pronouns including the following six options: me, te, le, nos, os, les to change the direct object.
  • Tocarle: The verb tocarle means “to choose” or “to be a person’s turn”, and it can take the indirect object pronouns including the following six options: me, te, le, nos, os, les to change the direct object.

Which is the correct order when a sentence features direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish?

In Spanish, remember that the indirect object pronoun goes before the direct object pronoun.

Let’s look at an example to show the order this should follow:

Listen to audio

Sara nos explicó el motivo de salir temprano.

Sara explained to us the motive for leaving early.

In this example, we have a direct object, el motivo, an action, explicó, and an indirect object, nos.

Did you notice the order of the direct and indirect object pronouns?

Yes, nos goes before the direct object el motivo.

Which order should direct and indirect pronouns take when you negate a sentence?

There is a small difference in the sentence structure or order of words when you negate sentences that feature direct and indirect object pronouns.

You can either add the word no before the pronoun or put the negative word before a non-conjugated verb with the indirect object pronoun attached to its end.

To visualise this in writing, take a look at the examples:

Listen to audio

Marisol nunca le gustaron los perros. Tiene una fobia.

Marisol never liked dogs. She has a phobia.
Listen to audio

Marisol nunca nos la explicó.

Marisol never explained it to us (the phobia).

In these examples, the negative word nunca comes before both the direct and indirect object pronouns.

So now let’s check out and analyse an example of the alternative word order:

Listen to audio

Marisol no quiere comprarle un chocolate.

Marisol doesn't want to buy him chocolate.
Listen to audio

Marisol no quiere preguntarle por qué le gusta tanto el azúcar.

Marisol doesn't want to ask him why he likes sugar so much.

These examples show that the negative word no comes before the second clause, the direct object and the indirect pronoun.

Practice using indirect object pronouns in Spanish

Remember that indirect object pronouns are a critical part of Spanish, and you’ll use them often if you want to become a Spanish language speaker.

Revisit this topic as often as required until you master it.

Since practicing is a necessary way to become an expert, set aside time to put in the hours and look at many examples to enhance your confidence and fluency.


Which tips do you have for learning these pronouns in Spanish?

Comment with your tips below!

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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