indirect object pronouns spanish

Indirect Object Pronouns Spanish: The Ultimate Guide (Theory + Examples)

Spanish native speakers constantly use direct and indirect object pronouns. However, if you’d ask them to explain what they are (or worse – how they are used), they’d often struggle to give you a coherent answer.

Time to change that and give you a full, in-depth understanding of indirect object pronouns in Spanish – and plenty of chunks so you can start using them in conversations right away, even as a Spanish beginner.

Ready?

What are indirect object pronouns in Spanish

To keep it simple, let’s say that indirect object pronouns replace the indirect object in a sentence; the entity, subject, animal, thing, or place  to whom a certain action was performed.

That’s the confusing linguistic explanation. As always, it’s easier to just look at an example.

Like this one:

  • Dieron un premio a Rafael. (They gave a prize to Rafael.)
    • Le dieron un premio. (They gave him a prize.)

To whom did they give a prize? → to Rafael. So Rafael is the indirect object in this sentence.

In English, you link sentences together (and make them easier to read) by replacing “to Rafael” with “him”. You can do the same in Spanish: you replace a Rafael with “le”: the indirect object pronoun.

In a moment, I’ll show you a full overview of the indirect object pronouns in singular and plural, and when to use them.

First, it’s important to understand that indirect object pronouns are often used with a special kind of verbs. Let’s have a look at the table below to see what verbs these are.

SpanishEnglish
DarTo give
DecirTo say
HablarTo talk
ExplicarTo explain
ContarTo tell
DejarTo leave

Please note that there are many more verbs like these ones. And, all of them can affect indirectly something or someone. Usually (but not always) you can just ask the question “To whom?” and that will usually give you the indirect object that you can then replace by an indirect object pronoun in Spanish.

If you want to practice identifying indirect object pronouns (and other parts of speech), you might like this exercise from the University of Wisconsin.

What are the 6 indirect object pronouns in Spanish?

Generally speaking, there are 6 indirect object pronouns. Of course, there are singular and plural pronouns. Let’s see first the singular ones in the table below.

SingularMeaning
MeRelating to A mí (to me)
TeRelating to a tí (to you)
LeRelating to a él, ella, usted (to him/her/formal you)

Now, let’s see the plural ones.

PluralMeaning
NosRelating to a nosotros (to us)
LesRelating to a ustedes (to plural you/them)

Finally, there’s the indirect object pronoun “se” which isn’t listed in the tables above but it’s extremely important (more about that in a second).

Indirect Objects Spanish: Placement

There are many expressions and phrases you can build using indirect object pronouns in Spanish. The first thing you need to keep in mind is that, usually, Spanish speakers place indirect object pronouns before the verb in Spanish. That’s different from the English indirect object, which people place after the verb. Let’s see an example.

Mi amiga me cuenta sus problemas.

My friend tells me her problems.

See? The indirect object pronoun “me” goes before the verb “contar” in Spanish but after the verb “to tell” in English.

Exception: when using the imperativo, you place the indirect object pronoun in Spanish right after the verb. For example dime (tell me) or dame (give me).

Common sentences using indirect object pronouns Spanish

Piecing together sentences with indirect object pronouns in a conversation can feel like you’re performing higher math. Your brain just isn’t made to think of all these rules while speaking.

That’s why it’s much easier to memorize a couple of common chunks (or patterns) that contain indirect object pronouns and that you KNOW are correct, so you don’t have to think about any grammar rules at all.

This is the idea behind Conversation Based Chunking: imprint pre-built patterns on your brain that you can use in conversations right away, so grammar rules become irrelevant.

Let’s see some structures using some of the verbs mentioned in the first section.

SpanishEnglish
Dale/Dame + objectGive him/her me + object
Regalale/Regalame + objectGift him / her / me / object
Te/le cuento que…I tell you/him/her that…
Me/ Te/ Le / Nos dejas…Can you leave me/you/him/us…
Te/Le dije que…I told you/him/her that…
Les /Te/ Le/ Me/ Nos explicaron como/que…They explained to them/you/him/her/me/us how/that…
Les/Te/Le hablamos…We talked to them/you/him/her…

Now, let’s see some useful chunks you can use when talking to friends or just in those times when you need to express yourself:

SpanishEnglish
Regalame un minutoGive me a minute
Regalale flores/algoGive him/her flowers/something
¡Dale!Go ahead!
Date cuentaRealize
Date prisaHurry up
Dale la manoShake hands / Give him/her a hand.
Me/ Te/ Le da pena hablar en publicoI/You/He is embarrassed to speak in public
Me/Te/Le da miedoIt scares me/you/it
Dame esoGive me that
Me/te dan ganas de ir a la playa/de viajeIt makes me/you want to go to the beach/on a trip

For traveling situations, the chunks listed below will be even more useful.

SpanishEnglish
¿Me explicas la dirección?Can you explain the address to me?
¿Me dices donde queda el baño?Can you tell me where the bathroom is?
Dime cuanto hay que esperar.Tell me how long to wait.
¿Nos explican que debemos hacer?Do they explain to us what we should do?
No me explicaron.They didn't explain to me.
No me da tiempo.I have no time.
No me dejan entrar.they won't let me in.

There are plenty more Spanish chunks you can use to get better and better. If you want to know more about Conversation Based Chunking, make sure to request your free Spanish Chunking Starter Pack. At Effortless conversations, you will learn with walkthrough videos, flashcard decks, recommended resources, and more.

How to use the Indirect object pronoun “Se”

The indirect object pronoun se is used in common expressions like “se lo dije” (I told him/her so). Thus, it’s quite important to understand how to use it.

You will only use se when you need to avoid structures or phrases with both direct and indirect pronouns, where Le/Les is “used” together with La/ lo/ Las/ Los.

For example:

A: ¿Le diste la contraseña a tu mamá? (Did you give your mom the password?)

B: Sí, se la dí. / (Yes, I gave it to her.)

Normally, the word “se” should be “le” since it replaces “a tu mamá”. Yet, using le-la together isn’t possible  in Spanish (you’d never say “le la dí”). That’s why “le” changes to “se”.

Conclusion

In summary, indirect object pronouns and direct object pronouns are essential for every Spanish learner. The best way to start using them in conversations is by learning some popular Spanish chunks.

If you'd like to learn more about how to learn Spanish without memorizing word lists and grammar rules, I recommend you get your Spanish Chunking Starter Pack here:

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