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A Lesson in Object Pronouns

Some complications arise with object pronouns in Spanish when you're dealing with third persons singular and plural

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Object pronouns in Spanish are reasonably straightforward unless you’re dealing with third persons singular and plural, when some complications arise.

The object pronounsme, te, lo/la/le, nos, os (Spain), los/las/les— are applied much as the English: me, you, him/her, us, and them.

Whether to use “lo” or “la” for “him” and “her” and when “le” depends on whether the person is the direct object (lo, la) or indirect object (le), and also on whether the action (verb) is intransitive (lo, la) or transitive (le). Likewise in the case of “los,” “las,” and “les” for “them.”

  • Lo vi ayer — I saw him yesterday;
  • La vi ayer — I saw her yesterday;
  • Le dije ayer — I told him/her yesterday;
  • Les hablé ayer – I called them yesterday.

I invited them to my party should be “les invité a mi fiesta,” although many if not most people in Mexico say “los invité a mi fiesta.

In the case of third persons, when two object pronouns come together, the first one changes to “se.” The pronoun replaced with “se” is that of the indirect object:

  • I brought the book — Traje el libro;
  • I brought it — Lo traje;
  • I gave him the book — Le di el libro;
  • I gave it to him — Se lo di.

Se” replaces “le” referring to the person, and not “lo” referring to the book.

This is usually no problem in the singular. But in the plural it’s common for people —even native speakers— to mix it up.  If, instead of giving the book to one person, you handed it over to a group, it would be expressed as follows:

  • I gave them the book — Les di el libro;
  • I gave it to them — Se lo di.

Now “se” replaces “les.

But people will often say “se los di,” making the book plural, but insisting that it refers to the plural recipients.

If you wanted to argue this point, which isn’t recommended unless, like the present writer, you have time on your hands and little else to do, you could suggest that the book be replaced by the letter —la carta— which is feminine and takes the object pronoun “la.

Would, “I gave them the letter” be “se la di” or “se los di?

Another way of clarifying would be to substitute “them” for “us.”

Would, “he gave it (the book) to us” be “nos lo dio” or “nos los dio“?

Thus settled, you could add the annoying “te lo dije“—told you so.

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