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How are direct and indirect object pronouns placed in Spanish sentences?

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Where do you place direct and indirect object pronouns in a sentence?

After discussing what direct and indirect pronouns are and how they are used in Spanish, let’s see where they are placed in the sentence. Direct and indirect object pronouns are always placed before the conjugated verb, except for the positive imperative form. How about the other forms of the verb? Let’s explore!

Direct object: 
- ¿Has cocinado el pastel? → - No lo he cocinado todavía. 
- Did you bake the cake? I haven't baked it yet.

Indirect Object:
Juan me escribió una carta.  Juan wrote a letter to me.

What happens when both the direct object pronoun and the indirect object pronoun are used in the same sentence? The indirect object pronoun always goes before the direct object pronoun. Take a look at the examples below:

Indirect Object pronoun      Direct Object Pronoun   +    Verb

Te    la    envié
I sent  it  to you

Me   los   dieron
They gave  them  to me

What is se?

There is one more rule you need to know! When the indirect pronouns le and les are combined with the direct object pronoun lo, la, los or las, the indirect object pronouns change to se:

  • ¿Compraste el libro a María?       Did you buy the book for María?

Indirect Object pronoun     +    Direct Object Pronoun   +    Verb
                                        se le     lo    compré
                                        I bought  it  for her

  • ¿Compraste el libro a los estudiantes? Did you buy the book for the students?

Indirect Object pronoun     +    Direct Object Pronoun   +    Verb
                                        se les    lo   compré
                                        I bought  it  for them

As you can see, le and les become se, thus in the examples above, se refers to María (feminine singular) or to los estudiantes (masculine plural). Check out this strategy to remember this rule!

Pronouns with Imperatives, infinitives, and gerunds

When direct and indirect object pronouns are used with positive imperatives, infinitives, and gerunds, these pronouns are placed after the verb. They attach to the verb, forming one single word:

Screen Shot 2021-08-05 at 11.08.14 AM

What happens if we combine the direct and indirect object pronouns with these verb forms? As above, we maintain the same order: indirect object + direct object (and the se instead of le/les rule is also maintained):

Screen Shot 2021-08-05 at 11.11.46 AM

As you may have observed, some verb forms have an accent mark when combined with these pronouns. Check out this article if you want to know how this rule works.

Pronouns with Verb combinations

Verb combinations combine a conjugated verb and a non-conjugated verb. Some examples of verb combinations in Spanish are:

  • Ir a + infinitive (going to): voy a comer                           I am going to eat

  • Tener que + infinitive (have to): tengo que hacer          I have to do

  • Estar + gerund (to be + -ing verb):  estoy cantando      I am singing

When these forms are used with a direct/indirect object pronoun, we have two options:

1.   We can put the pronouns before the conjugated verb:

    • Te lo voy a cocinar                   I am going to bake it for you

    • Se lo tengo que enviar             I have to send this to her/him/you

    • Se lo estoy llevando                 I am taking it to you

2.   Or, we can attach it to the non-conjugated verbs:

    • Voy a cocinártelo                      I am going to bake it to you

    • Tengo que enviársela               I have to send this to her/him/you

    • Estoy llevándoselo                    I am taking it to you

Recall that we always maintain the same order: Indirect pronoun + direct pronoun. And do not forget se!

Summary

To sum up what we’ve seen, in Spanish we always place the indirect object pronoun before the direct object pronoun. In addition, both are always placed before the conjugated verb. Although with positive imperatives, infinitives, and gerunds, pronouns are attached to the word, creating one single word. We also saw that with some verb conjugations, we can either place the pronouns before the conjugated verb or attach them to the non-conjugated verb of the verb combination. Also, remember that when le/les and a 3rd person direct object pronoun appear together, le/les change to se. See the examples below for a brief summary of all the cases we mentioned in this post!

  • Order Indirect Object + Direct Object:

    • - ¿Me enviaste la carta? (Did you send me the letter?)

    • - Sí, te la envié. (Yes, I sent it to you.)

  • Se instead of le/les:

    • - ¿Compraste el libro a María? (Did you buy the book for María?)

    • - Sí, se le lo compré. (Yes, I bought it for her.)

  • Placement with positive commands, infinitives, and gerunds:

    • cómpraselo

    • comprárselo

    • comprándoselo

  • Placement with verb combinations:

    • Te lo voy a cocinar. (I am going to bake it for you.)

    • Voy a cocinártelo. (I am going to bake it for you.)

You can also check this table for a further look at these cases. In the first three columns, you will find all these rules we just mentioned in a very visual way. 

That’s it! If you want to practice while learning how to cook Tortilla de Patata (a very typical Spanish dish), take a look at these activities we created. Enjoy!

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