Introduction to Double Object Pronouns  

Double Object Pronouns

We have already studied the two kinds of object pronouns. They are the "direct" object pronoun and the "indirect" object pronoun. If you don't remember these well, it would be a good idea for you to review them before beginning this lesson.

To start, let's review what we mean by the "direct" object. Look at the following sentence and decide what word is the "direct" object.

    John sent Mary the letter.

We can see that there are three nouns involved in this sentence. The subject is the noun that tells us who is doing the action. What is the subject in this sentence?

What is John sending? Is he sending "Mary" or is he sending the letter?

The "direct object" is what we call the thing or person that the verb is doing something to. In this case, it is obvious that John is sending the letter, not Mary, so the letter is the "direct object" of this sentence since it tells us what John is sending.

The third noun in the sentence is not doing the action, and is not the thing which in this sentence is being sent. We call this third noun in the sentence the "indirect object". It is only involved indirectly in the action which is taking place. In this case, John is sending the letter. Mary isn't sending, and she isn't being sent. However, she is involved in the event that is taking place. John is sending the letter "to Mary". In most sentences this is the relationship which the indirect object has to the event that is happening. This isn't always true however. Look at the next sentence.

    Mary is fixing John a peanut butter sandwich.

You can see that in this sentence it wouldn't sound right to say, "Mary is fixing a peanut butter sandwich TO John". It sounds better in this case to say, "Mary is fixing a peanut butter sandwich FOR John". We can see from this example that the "indirect object" sometimes can express the idea that something is being done "for" as well as "to" someone.

Did you notice that we express the idea of "to" or "for" without actually using those words? When we use an "indirect object" in the sentence, it isn't actually necessary to say "to" or "for" to communicate the idea. We understand the true meaning without having to use those words when we have an "indirect object". Nobody is confused into thinking that we are actually "sending Mary" (you really didn't think that John was putting stamps on her and throwing her into a mail box) and we didn't actually think that Mary was "fixing John" (he wasn't broken and didn't have to be repaired).

Spanish also uses "indirect objects" but there are some differences. In Spanish if we say "to Mary" we actually do have to use the word "to". This is also true for the use of the word "for". You would have to say, "John is sending the letter TO Mary". You can't just say, "John is sending Mary the letter". Also, you would have to say, "Mary is fixing the peanut butter sandwich FOR John". It doesn't sound right in Spanish to say, "Mary is fixing John the peanut butter sandwich." There are pronouns (words which take the place of nouns) which CAN be used without saying "to" or "for" however. These are the "indirect object pronouns". Do you remember these? We studied them in an earlier lesson. Let's review the "indirect object pronoun" forms.

Indirect Object Pronoun

to me           me 
to you          te 
to him, her     le 
to us           nos 
to them         les 

Pay close attention to the fact that you don't have to use "a" or "para" in Spanish with these "indirect object pronouns". Just the one word by itself is enough for the sentence to be correct. There is one possible problem, however, that you might encounter. Notice that "me" only means "to me". "Te" only means "to you". But "le" can mean either "to him" or "to her". Notice that in the following sentence, we really don't know if John is sending the letter to a boy or to a girl.

  • Juan le manda la carta.

To avoid confusion we might want to add something which is more specific.

In the case of "nos" there isn't any chance of confusion because it can only mean "to us". Once again, however, with "les" there is a problem. Remember that in Spanish we have two words for "them". You could mean, "to them (masculine)" which would be to "ellos" or it could be "to them (feminine)" which would be to "ellas". You might want to distinguish between the two groups, and the word "les" could be confusing in that case. This is why we often also use a "prepositional phrase" at the end of the sentence to make the meaning clear. Let's take a look at the prepositional phrase table that is used in Spanish.

Prepositional Phrase

to me             a mí 
to you            a ti 
to him, her       a él, a ella 
to us             a nosotros 
to them           a ellos, a ellas 

By using a prepositional phrase in the sentence we eliminate any possible confusion. We could say, "Juan le manda la carta a ella". In this case we would know that he is sending the letter "to her" and not to some other guy which would be "a él".

Now, you may have noticed that it seems that we are repeating "to her" in the sentence. "Le" can mean "to her", and "a ella" means "to her". This is OK. In Spanish we run into lots of cases where things are repeated. You might ask yourself if we couldn't just eliminate the word "le" and use "a ella". The answer is "NO". There must be an "indirect object pronoun" in the sentence when you say "to her". It is true that the phrase "a ella" is more specific than "le", but in Spanish, if you leave out the "le" it just doesn't sound right to a native speaker. The repetition of things in a sentence like this is called "redundancy". It happens in all languages. We do it in English also, but you are so used to it that you don't notice it when it happens. That's the way it is in Spanish. A native would find that the sentence, "Juan manda la carta a ella", just doesn't sound right. He would notice it immediately and be aware that you don't speak Spanish like a native. Ask the teacher if you want to know about "redudancy" in English. You might be surprised at how much you repeat things when you speak.

In the case of "me", "te", and "nos" we would never have any confusion, so we don't need the prepositional phrase to clarify the idea. We do find, however, in Spanish that this is done frequently. It is done to emphasize the indirect object. Here is an example:

  • Juan me manda la carta.
  • Juan me manda la carta a mí.

Both of these sentences say, "John is sending the letter to me", but nevertheless there is a difference. Think of it this way. There are actually two different questions that we could be answering.

    Is John sending the letter to me?


    Who is John sending the letter to?

In English we would emphasize the important part of the answer by saying it a little louder.

    John IS SENDING the letter to me.


    John is sending the letter TO ME.

In Spanish we would say, "Juan me manda la carta" for the first choice. For the second sentence, in order to emphasize the "to me" we would add the prepositional phrase.

  • Juan me manda la carta a mí.

The phrase, "a mí" puts more emphasis on the "to me".

Now I think that we are ready to deal with sentences in which we have "double pronoun objects". Let's look at the following example.

  • John is sending it to me.

In Spanish we would say:

  • Juan me la manda.

Or, we could add the prepositional phrase for emphasis and say:

  • Juan me la manda a mí.

There are several things for you to notice here. First, the "direct" object pronoun is "la". We use "la" because the direct object was "la carta". If we had been using an "O" category noun, we would have used "lo". You should remember this from earlier lessons. A second thing that you should notice is that the "indirect" object pronoun, "me" comes BEFORE the "direct" object pronoun "la". In Spanish, when you have two object pronouns, both direct and indirect, the "indirect" object pronoun always comes before the "direct" object pronoun. This is not true with all of the languages that developed from Latin. In French, for example, in some cases the "direct" object pronoun is first and sometimes the "indirect" object is first. This is one of the more tricky things that students of French have to learn to do. In Spanish it is very simple and straightforward. The "indirect" object pronoun ALWAYS comes first. That means that with different kinds of "direct" objects being substituted for by pronouns, you could have any of the following combinations:

to me

it to me        me lo 
them to me      me los 
it to me        me la 
them to me      me las 

It all depends on what the word is that you are substituting for with the pronoun. You could have a direct object which is an "O" category noun, or an "A" category noun. The noun could be singular (just one) or plural (more than one). The most important thing to remember at this point is that the "indirect" object pronoun comes first, then it is followed by the "direct" object pronoun.

The same thing is true with the indirect object pronoun "te". I could have said, "John is sending it to you". In that case we would have the following sentence in Spanish.

  • Juan te la manda.

Once again, we could add the appropriate prepositional phrase for emphasis and say:

  • Juan te la manda a ti.

Here is the chart of possible combinations with "te".
to you

it to you        te lo 
them to you      te los 
it to you        te la 
them to you      te las

Notice once more that the word "te" which is the indirect object pronoun comes first, then is followed by "la" which is the direct object pronoun. We would do the same thing with "to us". In Spanish we would say:

  • Juan nos la manda.

And, of course we could add the proper prepositional phrase to give emphasis and say:

  • Juan nos la manda a nosotros.

This would be the table of possible combinations with "nos".

to us

it to us         nos lo 
them to us       nos los 
it to us         nos la 
them to us       nos las 

Notice that in each case we have had four possible combinations.

In the case of "to him" or "to her" the situation changes. We would expect to find the combination "le lo" or "le la", but it doesn't work this way in this case. When we combine "le" with a "direct" object pronoun we find that the word "le" changes to "se". The reason that this happens is really not important for us at this point. It has to do with the evolutionary patterns of Latin as the Spanish language was taking shape during the middle ages. What is important for us to remember is that we can NOT combine "le" with a direct object pronoun as it is. It must change to "se".

If we want to say, "John is sending it to him (a friend)", we would have to say:

  • Juan se la manda.

Once more, we could place more emphasis on "to him" and make the sentence less confusing if we use the prepositional phrase and say:

  • Juan se la manda a él.

Here is a table to show you the possible combinations.

to him/her

it to him/her        se lo 
them to him/her      se los 
it to him/her        se la 
them to him/her      se las 

This would be true for "le" when it means "to her" also. To make it clearer, you could add "a ella" at the end of the sentence. Just remember that when we use "le" with a direct object pronoun, the word "le" must change to "se". "Le" can never be used in combination with "lo", "los", "la", or "las".

The word "les" works in exactly the same way. When "les" is used with a direct object pronoun it is changed to "se". Now notice, I didn't say "ses". There isn't any such word in Spanish. We use "se" in place of "le" as well as "les" when either of these words is used in combination with a direct object pronoun. That means that the chart for the possibilities would look like this.

to them

it to them         se lo 
them to them       se los 
it to them         se la 
them to them       se las 

Perhaps now it is a little more obvious to you why we add the prepositional phrase on the ending of the sentence to clear up any confusion. In Spanish, the sentence, "Yo se la mando", could mean any of the following:

    I am sending it (the letter) to him.
    I am sending it to her.
    I am sending it to them (boys).
    I am sending it to them (girls).

We would eliminate the confusion if we wrote the sentences with the prepositional phrases included.

    Yo se la mando a él.
    Yo se la mando a ella.
    Yo se la mando a ellos.
    Yo se la mando a ellas.

By doing it this way, we have a clear picture of exactly what is meant. Be careful, however. Remember that you can't just use "a él" or "a ella", etc. and leave out the word "se". A person who speaks Spanish would think that the sentence sounds odd without the word "se" being present.

We will practice these double object pronoun sentences in class. I'm sure that you will find that they are not so difficult after you've had some more experience with them.

Double Object Pronouns

PRONOMBRES DE DOBLE OBJETO - Double Object Pronouns in Spanish

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