Indirect object pronouns

What are indirect object pronouns (IOPs)?

An indirect object (IO) is, roughly speaking, the person or thing that the action of the sentence is being performed for or to, e.g.: ‘He told me a lie’ (the action of lying is being performed for ‘me’). You can find an indirect object in a sentence by asking ‘to/for who or what is the action being done’, e.g.:

She told my sister a story: For who or what was the story told?
She told my sister a story: 'my sister' is the indirect object

Indirect object pronouns (IOPs) are pronouns that function as the indirect object of the sentence - in both English and Spanish:

He gave hera gift → Le dio un regalo IOP IOP  

Furthermore, a sentence usually only contains an indirect object if there is already a direct object, e.g.:

You gave Alicia a gift IO DO

As we will explain in depth in this section, IOPs in Spanish have some important differences compared to their English equivalents. 

Chart of indirect object pronouns in Spanish

Below is a chart of all the indirect object pronouns in Spanish and their English equivalents:

 English indirect object pronounsSpanish indirect object pronouns1st person singularmeme2nd person singularyoute3rd person singularhim/her/itle (se)1st person pluralusnos2nd person pluralyou (pl.)os3rd person pluralthemles (se)

Note that the indirect object pronouns are almost the same as the direct object pronouns, the only difference is that the third person pronouns are le (singular) and les (plural) instead of lo/la and los/las, respectively. 

Indirect object pronouns don’t agree in gender

When you are using IOPs, you don’t have to worry about the grammatical gender of what they are referring to (as opposed to the DOPs). In English, we actually do distinguish between gender in the 3rd pers. sing. indirect object pronouns (‘him/her’). However, none of the Spanish IOPs have to agree in gender. For example, you can use the 3rd person singular le regardless of the gender of the person:

I asked her where the bathroom is → Le pregunté dónde está el baño

I asked him where the bathroom is → Le pregunté dónde está el baño

As you can see above, the Spanish sentences are actually identical even though English uses ‘her’ or ‘him’ depending on the gender of the person. 

Le and les become se in front of lo/la/los/las

If le or les is used in front of the direct object pronouns (DOPs) lo/la or los/las, they change to become se instead, e.g. if we want to say ‘I offered it to her’ in Spanish, it would look like this:

I offered it to her → Se lo ofrecíIOP  

As you can see, the IOP le has changed to se (i.e. a sentence like le lo ofrecí would be incorrect). Se is also used for the 3rd person plural les:

I offered it to them →  Se lo ofrecí

In the English sentence, the IOP ‘them’ is plural, but regardless it is translated to se in Spanish because it is used in front of lo. I.e. a sentence like les lo ofrecí would be grammatically incorrect.

The reason why le and les become se is, roughly speaking, to avoid clumsy pronunciations of strings of pronouns like les los or le la (but instead se los and se la would be used, respectively).

Placement of indirect object pronouns 

IOPs can always be placed in front of the verb in Spanish

Generally speaking, you can find IOPs in front of the conjugated verb in the sentence, whereas we place them a...

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