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Struggling with Indirect Object Pronouns in Spanish? We Can Help

Indirect object pronouns

One of the advantages of learning another language is that it can provide a better grasp of your own language. This is especially true when it comes to breaking down the grammar. Often, the easiest way to understand something confusing in another language is to compare it to your mother tongue and note differences.

Using indirect object pronouns in Spanish can cause difficulty if you don’t have a firm grasp on how direct and indirect objects work. Direct objects receive the action in a sentence, while indirect objects communicate who or what the action is being done for or to. The best way to illustrate this is with a simple example.

I wrote a letter. (“Letter” is the direct object of this sentence.)

I wrote a letter to my mother. (“My mother” is the indirect object of this sentence.)

This is pretty straightforward grammar, but once we introduce indirect and direct object pronouns it can be more complicated. Indirect and direct object pronouns are when pronouns are substituted for the nouns that serve as indirect or direct objects in these sentences. Let’s look at the same example when direct or indirect object pronouns are used. You’ll see indirect and direct object pronouns most frequently in responses to questions.

Who did you write the letter to?

I wrote it to my mother. (“It” is the direct object pronoun in this sentence.)

What did you send to your mother?

I wrote a letter to her. (“Her” is the indirect object pronoun in this sentence.)

In Spanish, the use of direct and indirect object pronouns is dependent on a few variables including things like sentence order, gendered nouns, and prepositions. The presence of an indirect object usually means you’ll also see the Spanish words a or para nearby to imply an action is being done to or for someone or something else.

For quick reference, the Spanish indirect object pronouns are as follows.

SingularPlural
me           Inosus
teyou (informal) os*you (informal)
le              you, him, her, itlesyou, them

*Used primarily in Spain.

What are the rules for using indirect object pronouns in Spanish?

The use of indirect object pronouns can get a bit tricky because, unlike English, the pronoun usually gets placed before the verb. The mechanics of this may seem awkward at first, so contextualized learning (like how Rosetta Stone does lessons) utilize is recommended to help focus on speaking Spanish instead of getting fixated on the syntax.

Here are a few different rules you should follow when deciding how to handle indirect object pronouns in Spanish.

If the main verb is conjugated, put the indirect object pronoun in front

When the main verb of the sentence is conjugated, the indirect object pronoun is usually placed directly in front of the verb. Here’s how that works using our previous example in Spanish.

Le escribí una carta.

(I wrote a letter to her.)

Infinitives mean you have options

If there is an infinitive, that usually means there is also a conjugated verb in the sentence. You can choose to put the indirect object pronoun before the conjugated verb or tack it onto the end of the infinitive.

Ella quiere ayudarme a escribir la carta.

Ella me quiere ayudar a escribir la carta.

(She wants to help me write the letter.)

Progressive forms of verbs also give you choices

When a verb is in the progressive form (in English they’d be verbs ending in “ing”), it is also usually accompanied by a conjugated verb. In cases like this, you can choose to put the indirect object pronoun before the conjugated verb or tack it onto the end of the progressive form.

Ella me está ayudando a escribir la carta.

Ella está ayudándame a escribir la carta.

(She is helping me write the letter.)

Commands require indirect object pronouns after the verb

Using the imperative mode can simplify the rules as indirect object pronouns in Spanish always follow the verb in affirmative commands. As can be seen in the following example, Spanish commands cut to the point in more ways than one.

¡Ayúdame a escribir la carta!

(Help me write the letter!)

Negative commands with indirect object pronouns

Saying no can complicate some things, but it won’t cause much distress for your indirect object pronouns. For this purpose, indirect object pronouns also come after the no and before the verb in Spanish.

¡No me ayudes a escribir la carta!

(Don’t help me write the letter!)

Direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns together

Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a muddle if you try to use indirect and direct object pronouns in the same sentence. Normally it’s fairly straightforward. Take the following example:

Sí, ella me la escribió.

(Yes, she wrote it to me.)

Sandwiching an indirect and direct object together in Spanish is usually not a problem except when you get to the third person. Then you’d have to say le lo, le la, le los, or les lo, which is a bit of a mouthful. Instead, Spanish requires “le” or “les” to change to  “se,” transforming the combination to se lo, se la, se los, or se las.

Se la he escrito.

(I have written it for her.)

If you have an infinitive in the sentence, you can move the object pronouns to the end but it will require adding an accent to the last syllable of the verb.

Sí, quiero escribírsela.

(Yes, I want to write it to her.)

What’s the best way to learn how to use indirect object pronouns in Spanish?

Memorizing tables, reviewing rules, and pouring over examples will help you understand the role of indirect object pronouns in Spanish. However, if you want to feel comfortable using indirect object pronouns in everyday situations, you’ll want to practice speaking them in Spanish as often as possible. 

The goal of Spanish lessons with Rosetta Stone is to teach you the language, not just the words. That’s why Rosetta Stone uses contextualized learning in an immersive environment that mimics how we learn language as children and encourages deeper connections. You’ll not only learn the rules for how and when to use indirect object pronouns, but you’ll also get more confident using those pronouns in real-world conversations.

Ready to take your Spanish lessons to the next level?

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