Just as in English, verbs can be accompanied by direct and indirect objects. A direct object is the noun or pronoun that the verb acts directly on. In a sentence such as "I see Sam," "Sam" is the direct object of "see" because "Sam" is who is seen. But in a sentence such as "I am writing Sam a letter," "Sam" is the indirect object. The item being written is "letter," so it is the direct object. "Sam" is the indirect object as one who is affected by the verb's action on the direct object. If you're learning Spanish, the distinction can be important to make because Spanish, unlike English, sometimes uses different pronouns for direct and indirect objects.
Here are the direct-object pronouns along with the most common English translations and examples of their uses:
- me — me — Juan puede verme. John can see me.
- te — you (singular familiar) — No te conoce. He doesn't know you.
- lo — you (singular masculine formal), him, it — No puedo verlo. I can't see you, or I can't see him, or I can't see it.
- la — you (singular feminine formal), her, it — No puedo verla. I can't see you, or I can't see her, or I can't see it.
- nos — us — Nos conocen. They know us.
- os — you (plural familiar) — Os ayudaré. I will help you.
- los — you (plural formal, masculine or mixed masculine and feminine), them (masculine or mixed masculine and feminine) — Los oigo. I hear you, or I hear them.
- las — you (plural feminine formal), them (feminine) — Las oigo. I hear you, or I hear them.
Note that lo, la, los and las can refer to either people or things. If they are referring to things, use the same gender as the name of the object being referred to. Example: Tengo dos boletos. ¿Los quieres? (I have two tickets. Do you want them?) But, Tengo dos rosas. ¿Las quieres? (I have two roses. Do you want them?)
As you can see from the above examples, the location of a direct-object pronoun can vary. In most cases, it can be placed before the verb. Alternatively, it can be attached to an infinitive (the form of the verb that ends in -ar, -er or -ir) or a present participle (the form of the verb that ends in -ndo, often the equivalent of English verbs that end in "-ing"). Each sentence in the following pairs has the same meaning: No lo puedo ver, and no puedo verlo (I can't see him). Te estoy ayudando, and estoy ayudándote (I am helping you). Note that when the direct object is added to a present participle, it is necessary to add a written accent so that the stress is on the proper syllable.
Direct-object pronouns follow affirmative commands (telling someone to do something) but precede negative commands (telling someone not to do something): estúdialo (study it), but no lo estudies (don't study it). Note again that an accent needs to be added when adding the object to the end of positive commands.
Le as a direct object: In some parts of Spain, le can substitute for lo as a direct object when it means "him" but not "it." Less commonly in some areas, les can substitute for los when referring to people. You can learn more about this phenomenon in the lesson on leísmo.
Final note: There are a few verbs that are accompanied by indirect-object pronouns even though their English equivalents would use a direct object in the same way. One example is creer: No lo creo (I don't believe it), but no le creo (I don't believe him/her.) Gustar and some similar verbs function in the same way.