Finally Discover the Secrets to Indirect/Direct Objects in Spanish
Understanding the difference between indirect and direct objects in Spanish can be a real pain for many learners. Unless you’re a grammar pro, sometimes it’s difficult to remember how to identify these in English, let alone in another language.
If you master a new language, understanding a bit of grammar can go a long way. So today, we’re getting down to the basics. We’ll be going over exactly what indirect and direct objects are so that you’re aren’t staring blankly every time you see them mentioned in a textbook.
The best part is, you can apply a lot of what you’ll learn today to English grammar so that you can think of it as a two-for-one special! Let’s start from the very beginning:
Parts of Speech in Spanish
Let’s quickly trigger a flashback to your English classes when you were 12 – what exactly are the parts of speech? In simple terms, the parts of speech are just ways to label individual words in a sentence and put them in a category.
In English, most sentences will contain:
1. A subject
2. A verb
3. An object
A subject is the person doing the action. The verb is the action that’s happening, and the object receives the effect of the action.
The easiest way to grasp the parts of speech is with the simple sentence “John likes Annie.” John is the subject because he is doing the hitting. “Likes” is the verb since that’s the action occurring. Annie is the object of the sentence because she receives the action of getting liked.
Of course, there are many other parts of speech, and you can dive way deeper into this concept, but for today, let’s keep it simple! Keep in mind the concepts of subject, verb, and object in English – because they’re pretty much the same in Spanish.
Now that we’ve had a review of our 6th grade English class, let’s apply that same information to Spanish:
Direct Objects in Spanish
In both languages, we can split the category of “Object” into two: Direct and Indirect. Let’s start with the former.
A direct object is an object that has the action happen directly to them. In other words, they’re not just affected by the verb; the verb is doing something to them. Here are a few easy examples:
1. Ayer, (yo) compré chocolate – Yesterday, I bought chocolate.
2. ¿Limpiaste tu habitación? – Did you clean your room?
3. Pedro pegó a Juanito en el cole – Pedro hit Juanito at school.
In all three examples, the object is receiving the action of the verb directly. For instance, in “yo compré chocolate,” the chocolate is being purchased, so the action of buying is happening to it.
A great trick to figure out if something is a direct object is switching the sentence into a passive voice. For example, “Chocolate was bought by me.” If the object can turn into the subject, then you’ve got yourself a direct object on your hands.
This isn’t a foolproof method, but if you’re having trouble grasping the concept at the beginning, it’s a great way to start!
Indirect Objects in Spanish
On the other hand, indirect objects are parts of the sentence that are affected by the verb, but the action isn’t happening to them. Let’s look at some examples with this:
1. Le compró flores (a María). – He/she bought María flowers.
2. El padre dio el juguete a su hijo – The father gives his son the toy.
3. Escribieron una carta para su abuela – They wrote their grandmother a letter.
In all three of these examples, a person is being affected by the main verb, but the action isn’t happening to them. In other words, María isn’t being bought; instead, flowers are bought for María. So as you can see, the sentence’s verb can affect an object, but indirectly.
You can see the same concept in the second example. The son isn’t being given. The toy is being given to the son.
So if you want to figure out the difference between a Direct and Indirect object, you have to look at it this way – which part of speech is having the action happen to them, and which is inadvertently affected by that action?
Before we call it a day, there are just a couple of things to know about Spanish objects that make them slightly different from English. In Spanish, anytime you have a person as a grammatical object, you must put an “a” in front of it.
Looking at the previous examples, you can see there is always an “a” before any person. Let’s look at two pairs of grammatically correct sentences, and you’ll see precisely why this is necessary:
1. José ve a Carlos todos los días.
2. A Carlos ve todos los días José.
3. María la ha visto. – María has seen her.
4. A María la ha visto. – She’s seen María.
The first two sentences both translate to “José sees Carlos every day.” So, while there aren’t any problems with translation, the Spanish language is much more flexible regarding word order. In fact, native Spanish speakers will change the word order in order to emphasize different parts of the sentence.
The third and fourth sentence is an excellent example of how the personal a lets a listener understand who is the object and who is the subject. Since you could also change the word order of these sentences, you can’t rely on the “Subject-verb-object” rule that we have in English.
Spanish is a much more flexible language than English or German when it comes to word order, so the a personal is a great tool that helps keep clarity in speech. So while it might be difficult for you to use it at first, it’s essential, so make sure to keep practicing it!
¡Ya lo tienes!
You’ve already got it! As you can see, in direct and direct objects in Spanish aren’t nearly as complicated as you may have thought initially. Sure, grammar topics are always scary at first, but that doesn’t mean you can’t conquer them.
Now you’re one step closer to speaking like a native, so much sure to practice what you learned. Book a lesson with us today and show us your grammar skills!