You are on page 1of 14

Lesson 14 - Verb Object Pronouns

Verb Object Pronouns

Table of Pronouns
Alphabetical Index of Pronouns and Possessive Adjectives
Location of Verb Object Pronouns
Potential Ambiguity in Verb Object Pronouns. The Redundant Object Pronoun
Reflexive Pronouns
The True Reflexive
Reciprocal Action
Impersonal Statements
The Reflexive Without any Clear Meaning
Change of Meaning with the Reflexive
Colorful Uses of Verb Object Pronouns
Parts of the Body and Articles of Clothing
Unexpected Negative Events
Multiple Verb Object Pronouns
Location of verb object pronouns in formal writing.
Identifying pronouns on the end of verb forms other than infinitive and gerund.
Lectura 7: Santa Teresa, fundadora de conventos
In Lesson 13 we looked at verb objects in Spanish. In this lesson we will look at verb
object pronouns - small words that function as objects, but are shorter than the
nouns or names that you might otherwise use.

Verb Object Pronouns. Spanish has an extensive system of verb object pronouns,
similar to the the English object pronouns me, him, her, them, us. They substitute
for the noun referred to (Pedro, mi hermano, la gata, and so on).

Table of Pronouns (click here). Here is a presentation of the pronouns. Note that in
the third person, some forms are the same for both singular and plural. This table
also includes prepositional object pronouns (to him, for her, etc.).

Alphabetical Index of Pronouns and Possessive Adjectives (click here). This is an

original tool created for this book/course.

Location of Verb Object Pronouns. In contrast with other sentence elements, the
positions of verb object pronouns are rigid. As we will see, this rigidity is necessary
to avoid ambiguity in their meaning.

You will find verb object pronouns in two locations:

Immediately preceding a true verb (a form with person and number)

La veo todos los das. (I see her every day.)
Me dieron unas botellas de vino. (They gave me some bottles of wine.)
After and attached to an infinitive, present participle, or positive command
(commands have not yet been presented).
Voy a comerlo. (I am going to eat it.)
Estaban probndolo. (They were testing it, or trying it on. The accent is added,
following regular rules, to indicate the stressed syllable, now that the word is a
syllable longer due to the addition of the pronoun.)
There is no difference at all in meaning between Lo van a estudiar and Van a
estudiarlo. This is a contrast with the location of adjectives, where the adjective's
location (before or after the noun it modifies) can have a small effect on the

Potential Ambiguity in Verb Object Pronouns. The Redundant Object Pronoun. Any
pronoun requires context to give it meaning. The words "I," "him," "them," by
themselves are without fixed meaning. In addition, in Spanish, some of the
pronouns serve several functions. For example, le can mean to him, to her, to it
(indirect objects), and, in Spain, him and usted (direct objects).

If the context does not make clear the meaning of a pronoun, the pronoun is
explained by using an expressed object. That is: in addition to the pronoun, there is
a stated object (the person or thing the object pronoun was to replace).

La vi a mi hermana. ("I saw my sister." Given a context in which La vi by itself is

unclear, the direct object phrase "a mi hermana" is added. (Note that it is begun by
the non-translatable "a" that serves as a direct object marker with people.)
Les dije a todos la verdad. ("I told all of them the truth." La verdad is direct object,
todos the indirect object, les an indirect object pronoun.)
Los libros los tengo en la casa. ("I have the books at home." Los libros and los are
both the direct object of the verb.)
One may well wonder what purpose it serves to use a pronoun at all, if it so
ambiguous that it needs to be clarified. In the first example above, the direct object
pronoun la adds nothing that is not contained in a mi hermana.

In fact this use of a verb object pronoun serves no purpose related to meaning or
efficiency of communication. For this reason it is called the "redundant object
pronoun." Spanish speakers and writers simply "like" to use verb object pronouns.

The above examples all deal with the third person. In the case of the first and
second person, since there is no ambiguity in the object pronouns me and te, and
only minor potential for ambiguity with nos and os, addition of a explanatory
prepositional phrase serves to emphasize the pronoun. (It is the same as the use of
a first or second person subject pronoun for emphasis).
Me lo dice a m? (You're saying that to me?)
If the meaning of the third person pronoun is already clear from the context, the use
of the prepositional phrase plus object pronoun also serves to emphasize the object.
Pedro? A l le vi por la maana. (Pedro? I saw him in the morning.)

Reflexive Pronouns. The reflexive pronoun is used when the object is the same as
the subject. Therefore, it always agrees in person and number with the verb. A
reflexive pronoun can be used with any verb whose meaning permits it.

The reflexive pronouns are identical with the direct and indirect verb object
pronouns in the first and second person (me, te, nos, os). Also, the third person
reflexive pronoun, se, is both singular and plural, and is also the same as the
substitute indirect object se just given above.

Tip: se used alone is always a reflexive pronoun. The indirect object usage above is
only in combinations of pronouns.

Second tip: if the object pronoun matches the subject in person and number, it is a
reflexive pronoun.

Types of reflexives.

The true reflexive. The subject performs an action on him- her-, or itself.
Me prepar bien para el examen. (I prepared myself well for the exam.)
Me considero preparado. (I consider myself prepared.)

Volition. Sometimes the reflexive communicates an aspect of volition, a suggestion

that the action of the verb was deliberate and desired.
l se fue. (Not he went, but he left.)
Se durmieron temprano. ("They fell asleep early"; distinguish from the non-reflexive
use of dormir. Durmieron poco, they slept little. The former has more sense of
volition or purpose in it; the second is a simple statement.)

Reciprocal action. A plural reflexive is used to indicate reciprocal action, rather than
several people performing reflexive acts, each on his- or herself..
Se quieren mucho. (They love each other a lot. NOT: He loves himself and she loves
herself a lot.)
Nos escribimos todas las semanas. (We write each other every week. NOT: I write
myself, and he writes himself, every week.)

Impersonal statements. A very common usage of the reflexive is to make an

impersonal statement, to say something happens without specifying who carries out
the action. The key is that there does not appear to be a subject for the verb. There
is no English equivalent to this common construction, which is similar to the
subjectless verb, as in "Hablan espaol." The English passive is often the best
Se habla espaol aqu. (Spanish is spoken here.)
Se dice que... (It is said that...)
Another possible translation is the impersonal subject pronoun "one":

Se llega al aeropuerto por la autopista. (One reaches the airport [by travelling] on
the expressway.)
En los barrios pobres, se tiene hambre. (In the poor neighborhoods, one is hungry.)

The reflexive without any clear meaning. Often there is no apparent "sense" to the
use of the reflexive, and it is not translated. These verbs are found in the dictionary
only with the "se" pronoun on the end of the infinitive, meaning that the use of the
reflexive pronoun is required. The verb is not used without it.
Se desayunaron a las ocho. (They ate breakfast at eight o'clock. Originally centuries ago - desayunar was "to break a fast," an action one could perform on

Change of meaning with the reflexive. With some verbs, the addition of a reflexive
pronoun changes the meaning somewhat. Dictionaries usually will list reflexive
meanings (meanings when the verb is used with a reflexive pronoun) after the main
meaning of a verb. For example (this is from the University of Chicago Dictionary):
crecer v. irr. to grow; to increase, -se to swell (as a river); to become or feel
The se ending found on an infinitive in the dictionary indicates that what follows is
the meaning of the verb used with a reflexive pronoun. (It does not mean that only
the pronoun se is used, nor does it mean that only verbs so marked can be used
There is no simple way to tell if the meaning has changed with the addition of a
reflexive, other than consulting the dictionary. However, the change is usually subtle
or minor, and can often be guessed. For example, acabar is "to finish," as in to finish
a task. Can you guess the meaning of Se acab el caf? (Click here for the answer.)

Colorful uses of the reflexive pronoun.

Parts of the body and articles of clothing. With parts of the body and articles of
clothing, possessive adjectives (mi, su, etc.) are not normally used. The reflexive
pronoun serves the purpose of indicating whose body or clothing it is. With pains or
pleasant feelings, the body part producing the sensation is the subject, and the
person is the indirect object:
Le duele la garganta. (His/her throat hurts.)
Me duelen los pies. (My feet hurt; literally "my feet cause pain to me.")

With actions involving parts of the body or clothing, the person doing the action is
the subject, and the reflexive pronoun indicates that he/she performs the action on
him- or herself.
Se lav las manos? (Did he, she, or you wash his/ her/your hands?)
Se quit el sombrero. (He/she took off his/her hat.)
If the action is performed on someone else's body or clothing, a possessive
adjective may be used:
Le quit sus zapatos. (He/she took off his/her - someone else's - shoes.)
Unexpected negative events. With unexpected negative events, it is common to
make the inanimate article an autonomous agent performing a reflexive action in
itself, with the person as the indirect recipient of the action:

Se me olvidaron los libros. ("I forgot the books," but shifting the fault to the books.
Literally "the books forgot themselves to me.")
Se me cay. (It fell "on" me, i.e. it fell and now I have to deal with it. Literally "it
dropped itself to me." Me is the indirect object.)

Multiple Verb Object Pronouns. When there is more than one object pronoun, their
sequence is fixed: reflexive, indirect, direct. (Thus the order used in the Table of
Pronouns.) This is true whether they precede the verb as separate words, or are
written at the end of the verb as endings. The rigid order allows the type of pronoun
to be identified.

The most common pair is indirect object + direct object.

Jos nos lo da. (Jos gives it [direct object] to us [indirect object]. If the order were
not fixed, one could not tell which object pronoun was which.)
Ya te lo dije. (I already said it [direct object] to you [indirect object].)
Also common is the combination reflexive + indirect.
Se me dice que... (It has been said to me that...)
IMPORTANT: When a third person indirect object pronoun (beginning with l-) comes
immediately before a third person direct object pronoun (also beginning with l-), the
indirect object pronoun is se (see table). Note that se is both singular and plural.
Se lo digo. (I tell it [direct object] to him, her, it, them, usted or ustedes [indirect
Ella se los compra. (She buys them [direct object] from him, her, it, them, ustedor
ustedes [indirect object].)

Se lo doy a ella. (Se and a ella refer to the same person; a ella makes it clear that se
means to her and not to him/you/them/usted/ustedes.)
Queremos confesrselo. (We want to confess it to him, her, it, or you.)
Van a drselo. (They are going to give it - lo - to him/her/them/usted/ustedes - se.)

Location of verb object pronouns in formal writing. In formal writing or oratory,

object pronouns can be found on the end of almost any verb forms. Formal writing is
much more common in Spanish than in English, and can be found in many political
writings, speeches, opinion pieces like a column in a newspaper, and so on. Only
rarely would object pronouns be used in this way in a research article, or in
conversation. (The presentation of this fairly common feature is another unique
characteristic of this book.)

"Propseme trabajar en el Archivo de Indias una o dos semanas...y me pas all,

como encantado, ms de dos meses! ("I proposed to myself to work in the Archive
of the Indies [the Western hemisphere] one or two weeks... and I spent there, as if
enchanted, more than two months!" Note that the reflexive pronoun me with pas
suggests the volition involved in staying there - he spent this time there
"Examinado aquellos venerables papeles sintese, en realidad de verdad, una dulce
tristeza." ("Looking at those venerable papers one feels, in truthful reality, a sweet
sadness." This and the previous quotation are from Francisco Rodrguez Marn. Click
here for bibliographical information.)
Identifying pronouns on the end of verb forms other than infinitive and gerund. It is
not hard to identify object pronouns on the end of infinitives and gerunds. The
ending will be preceded by the -ar/-er/-ir of the infinitive, or the -ando/-iendo of the

Object pronouns are also used on the end of other verb forms, most often with
commands and in main clauses. A verb object pronoun can be distinguished from a
verb ending by the following principle: verbs with object pronouns on the end are
usually accented two syllables before the end, with a written accent.
djole (decir + le) - 3s said to him or her
dcese (decir + se) - it is said
rase (ser + se) - once upon a time
Exceptions: the first and third person singular of the preterit of regular verbs; onesyllable verbs, of which there are few.
hablle (He/she spoke to him/her. hablar + le)

slo (I know it; saber + lo; also Be it; ser + lo)

In other instances, if the stress is on the next to the last syllable, what might seem a
possible verb object pronoun is actually the ending of the verb:
suele present tense of soler (to be in the habit of) not the pronoun le
siente present tense of sentir (to feel or be sorry for) not the pronoun te
tose present tense of toser (to cough), not the pronoun se
redime present tense of redimir (to redeem) not the pronoun me
Exercise. Determine the meaning of each of the following:

Estaba dicindome la verdad.

Quieren quitrnoslo.
Hzomelo mi madre.
Lo guard para s.
Sonrime al verme. (A = at, upon)
Decase que el ejrcito iraqu era flojo.
Entre aquellos pobres, comase todo lo comestible.
Click here to go to the translations of the sentences above.

Lectura 7: Santa Teresa, fundadora de conventos

In this reading, the author paints a picture of a moment of Spain's history, at a time
of religious reform in the sixteenth century. He accentuates the difficulties Santa
Teresa, faced and the harshness of Castile. Santa Teresa was a religious reformer,
founding convents on her own initiative. She was also arguably a feminist (though
she would have never said so).

This is the first reading that is taken from a published source, rather than written by
the author of this text. The author, Francisco Martnez Ruiz, used the pseudonym
Azorn (little hawk). It is taken from his Una hora de Espaa, Chapter 16. It was
written in 1924. (There is a student edition of this book published in 1993 by
Editorial Castalia, Madrid. The ISBN is 8470396765; a bookseller can find it from this
number. There is an English translation, An Hour of Spain, but it was last published
in 1933. It could be obtained through interlibrary loan.)

A la cada de la tarde ha llegado el carrito(1) a la ciudad. Han descendido del carro

una religiosa(2) y una compaera. Salieron por la maana(3) de otro pueblo. Han
caminado durante todo el da. El viento sopla fro por la llanura. La religiosa va un
poco enferma. A media tarde, la religiosa y su compaera han sacado de un zurrn
un cantero(4) de pan y un pedacito(5) de queso y han comido. Est un poco
enferma la religiosa; el viento fro del otoo le hace dao en la(6) garganta. No cesa
de caminar por toda Espaa la buena religiosa(7); va de pueblecito(8) en pueblecito
y de ciudad en ciudad; habla con frailes, monjas y prelados. Para todos tiene
palabras afectuosas. Sus ojos son negros y redondos. "Ojos--dice el padre
Ribera(9)--vivos y graciosos, que en rindose(10) se rean todos(11) y mostraban
alegra; y por otra parte, muy graves cuando ella quera mostrar en el rostro
gravedad." La complexin(12) de la religiosa es fuerte. "No soy nada tierna--dice
ella hablando de s(13)--; antes(14) tengo un corazn tan recio, que algunas veces
me da pena." Recio, no para los humanos, sino para las adversidades. Pero hoy es
el da en que la esforzada religiosa va a sentirse un tantico(15) desazonada. No le
han hecho(16) perder la serenidad los trabajos y la hostilidad de los hombres, y hoy
por una cosita(17) de nada va a estar a pique de perderla.

El carro ha llegado a la ciudad. La religiosa y su compaera no conocen en ella(18)

a nadie. En el pueblo de donde vienen les han dado(19) vagas indicaciones sobre lo
que desean.(20) El carro va dando vueltas por las calles; a veces se detiene, y el
carretero(21) interroga a las gentes. Y otra vez comienza a caminar. La hermana
que va con la religiosa es sorda; a la monja, su mal de garganta le ha quitado la
voz. No pueden entenderse(22) una y otra cuando hablan.

El carro se ha detenido ante una casa. Ser sta(23) la casa donde van a fundar un
pequeo convento? La puerta est abierta; al zagun se sube por dos escalones;
est encalado.(24) Las paredes son de un blanco puro. A la derecha se abre una
puertecilla;(25) da paso a una camarilla(26) en que hay una tinaja y dos cntaros.
(27) A la izquierda, por otros dos escalones, se sube a un breve corredor. Al cabo del
pasillo se encuentra un patio rodeado(28) de alta galera.(29) El techo del zagun
est formado por viguetas(30) cuadradas que sostienen anchas tablas. La galera
del patio es de madera. La madera del techo y la madera de la galera, en contraste
con la ntida cal,(31) aparecen negruzcas(32) y ahumadas.(33)

Muchas generaciones, desde la Edad Media, han pasado por esta pobre morada. Las
catedrales y los palacios son grandes y ostentosos; los nombres de quienes han
levantado las catedrales y de quienes han morado en los palacios, tal vez han
pasado a la Historia.(34) Pero en estas casas humildes, a lo largo de los siglos, han
vivido generaciones de gentes que han trabajado y sufrido en silencio. Y estas
paredes blancas y estas maderas ahumadas, anodinas,(35) sin primores artsticos,

vulgares, llegan acaso a producir una emocin ms honda, ms inefable que(36) los
maravillosos monumentos.

Click here for the translation of this reading.


1. -ito is a diminutive ending, to be discussed shortly. It makes the word carro


2. This is a adjective (religioso) that has been turned into a noun through the
addition of an article: "a religious person." (There is no noun for religiosa to modify.)
Note that religiosa and compaera are the subjects of "han descendido." In English,
religious is sometimes a noun (member of a religious order), especially used by
religious writers.

3. Por tells the way something is done: "in the morning." Maana by itself is
"tomorrow," but when it is modified, as in la maana, esta maana, una maana, it
means "morning."

4. A crust. Note that "zurrn" (pouch ) is part of the prepositional phrase "de un
zurrn". The phrase ends with "zurrn"; "un cantero" is the object of the verb "han

5. Note the diminutive suffix -ito (later in this text -cito and -ecito). The z in pedazo
(a piece) has changed to c because the following vowel has changed from o to i.

6. her throat. The indirect object pronoun (le) often indicates the ownership of parts
of the body or articles of clothing.

7. Here is your subject (religiosa). It is also the subject of va.

8. The diminutive suffix -ito sometimes replaces a final vowel with e and adds the
consonant c. "Little town."

9. The article "el" is not translated. Father Ribera was an early biographer of Saint

10. Present participle of rer, with reflexive pronoun on the end. The "e" of the stem
changes to "i," but as the ending begins with "i" the two "i"s combine. Double
unaccented i or u are not permitted in Spanish. En rindose: when (her eyes are)

11. Everyone; the subject.

12. To say her complexion is strong makes no sense, so complexin does not mean
complexion. Try to guess before you look it up.

13. Herself; reflexive third person object of a preposition; also can mean himself,
itself, themselves, yourself (polite), yourselves (polite).

14. Rather

15. -ico is another, more colloquial diminutive ending: "a tiny bit."

16. The subjects of the plural verb are trabajos and hostilidad. Serenidad is the
object of perder.

17. "A little thing," using the diminutive -ito suffix. Una cosita de nada, a little
nothing. Por: "because of," "from."

18. Look backwards for the noun the pronoun ella refers to. It must be feminine
singular, so it would not be referring to the pair "religiosa" and "compaera." In the
previous sentence you will find the feminine singular noun "ciudad," which is what
"ella" refers to. Translation is "do not know anyone in it (the city)."

19. Subjectless third person plural; an equivalent to the English passive. "They were

20. Lo que = that which. The subject of desean is the two women.

21. The suffix -ero creates an ocupation: zapato shoe, zapatero, shoemaker or shoe
repairman; camin truck, camionero truckdriver; casamiento marriage,
casamentero, matchmaker. Carreta is a cart, so carretero is the one who drives the

22. Reciprocal reflexive. "They cannot understand each other."

23. Can this be? sta is the subject of the verb ser (a future form of ser).

24. A past participle used adjectivally: "whitewashed." The verb encalar was created
from the root cal, lime or whitewash.

25. -illa is another diminutive suffix. With some words, suffixes are preceded by a c
or d.

26. Cmara can be a photographic camera, but here has the archaic meaning of
"room." The -illo ending, as in the English "cigarillo," makes it smaller.

27. Tinaja: a large earthenware jug for water. Cntaro: a pitcher.

28. A past participle used as an adjective. Look up the infinitive.

29. An interior hallway. In traditional Spanish buildings such as this, it is a balcony

surrounding an interior courtyard.

30. -ete (here in its feminine form -eta), a diminutive attached to viga, beam.

31. Note that in this instance, the adjective comes first, followed by the noun. When
this happens, the adjective is less vital than it is than when it follows the noun.

32. The suffix -uzco means having some of the qualities of, like English -ish (bluish,

33. Past participle used as an adjective. (Only as an adjective, not as a verb form,
can a -do past participle form change gender or number.) The verb ahumar is
formed on the root of humo, smoke. Presumably the boards are discolored from
candle smoke.

34. The capital "H" on "Historia" has the same function as it would in English, if
"History" were capitalized: "history with a capital 'H,'" "'real' history."

35. Ordinary, uninteresting.

36. The comparative: morethan

Translation of the sentences of Exercise:

He/she/Ud. was telling me the truth.

They/Uds. want to take it away from us. (Lo, "it," is the direct object; nos is the
indirect object. Because of the meaning of the verb quitar, "from" is the correct
My mother did it to me. (Madre cannot be the object because it has no preposition
in front of it; therefore it is the subject.)
Did you (t) give it (fem.) to him/her/it/them.
He/she kept it (masculine) for him/herself.
He/she smiled at me upon seeing me.
It was said that the Iraqi army was week.
Among those poor people, everything eatable was eaten. (The "se" on the end of
"coma" is the impersonal third person reflexive "se.")