The "personal a" in Spanish  

Basic Spanish Concepts Use of the "personal a"

Short summary:
In Spanish we usually use a personal a when people & pets come before a verb.


People:
The personal a in Spanish is a word used before people and after verbs. Look at the following examples.
    Juan no puede encontrar su teléfono.
       Juan can’t find his telephone.
    No puede encontrar a su mamá.
       Juan can’t find his mom.

In the first sentence, there is no a after the verb. Notice in the second sentence that there is an a.

This a is used after the verb phrase: puede encontrar and before the person su mama.

Let’s look at some more examples.

    El viejito observa a las personas en el parque todos los días.
       The old man observes people in the park every day.
    Carla visita a sus abuelos durante las vacaciones.
       Carla visits her grandparents during her vacation.
    Mis amigos no han visto a José.
       My friends haven’t seen José.

Víctor siempre llama al hermano de Diego.11
   Victor always calls Diego’s brother.
Las chicas no conocen al señor López.21
   The girls don’t know Mr. Lopez.

In the sentences below, notice that no extra word is used in English when the personal a is used.

    No conozco a Alicia.
       I don’t know Alicia.
    ¿Quién invitó a Gilberto a la fiesta?
       Who invited Gilberto to the party?


Pets:
The personal a is also used with pets. This is probably because people treat their pets like people.
    ¿Puedes bañar al perro, por favor?
       Can you please bathe the dog?
    Juan no puede tocar a los gatos de su novia porque es alérgico.
       Juan can’t touch his girlfriend’s cats because he is allergic.


Different order:
Spanish is a very flexible language so the personal a is good to tell us what really belongs after the verb.

A su mamá la quiere Susana. / Susana quiere a su mamá.31
Susana loves her mom.

¿A quién prefieres en tu familia? Who do you prefer in your family?


Exceptions:
The personal a isn’t needed in the following circumstances:
  • with the verb tener4
    No tenemos hermanos.
       We don’t have brothers / siblings.
    ¿Tienes muchos amigos?
       Do you have a lot of friends?
  • with hay (or it’s forms in the past, future or conditional)
    Había muchas personas en el concierto.
       There were a lot of people in the concert.
    ¿Hay un buen profesor de español?
       Is there a good Spanish teacher?
  • when the person we’re talking about could be anyone
    Necesito un abogado.
       I need a lawyer (anyone will do).
    Juan busca una secretaria.
       Juan is looking for a female secretary (anyone will do).
Notas:
1. a + el [person] = al [person]
Ex:
Juan cuida al abuelo de su novia. (a + el abuelo al abuelo)
2. Señor [name] is for titles… but when we talk about people with the titles: señor, señora, señorita, we’ll add el and la in front of them.
Ex:
¿Cómo estás, Señor Torres? (asking him)
   How are you, Mr. Torres?
¿Ustedes saben cómo está el Señor Torres? (asking other people about him)
   Do you all know how Mr. Torres is doing?
3. Usually if the word order is switched, people will add a direct object pronoun(lo, la, los, las) beforehand. To see the lesson on Direct Objects click here
4. The personal a can be used after tener but it’s not as common.




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