When to use direct object pronouns in Spanish?

The hands of the person making notes in the paper sheet.
When should we use direct object pronouns in Spanish?

It might seem confusing to understand when to use direct object pronouns in Spanish. However, they are here to make our lives easier.
And you will soon understand why.

Learning the direct object pronouns in Spanish will be useful for you when you progress from beginner to intermediate level.

At first, it might be very confusing, which makes sense because you have a lot of things to think about when replacing the noun with the direct object pronouns in Spanish.

You have to consider the sentence order most of the time. Also, it might be confusing to find the right pronoun to replace the direct object.

In this article, you will find out:

  • What are the direct objects and direct object pronouns
  • When to use direct object pronouns in Spanish
  • How to use direct object pronouns when there are two verbs
  • How to use direct object pronouns in negative sentences
  • Loads of examples

Let’s first start discussing the concept of an object pronoun in general.

#1. What are direct objects and transitive verbs?

direct object is a person or a thing getting the action from the verb. The verb which needs a direct object is called a transitive verb. 

The direct object usually answers the questions “What?” or “Whom?”. 

Emma eats the apple. 

A woman hand holding a red apple. A sentence written in Spanish to show example of using direct object in Spanish
Emma come la manzana.

The word “Apple” is a direct object in this example. 

The direct objects are easy to understand because they are the same as in the English language — the same order of words. 

Emma eats the apple. 
Emma come la manzana.

That was easy, right?

#2. What are the direct object pronouns and when to use them?

Where it gets tricky, at least it did for me, is when we need to use direct object pronouns.

Direct object pronouns are used to replace the direct object in order to avoid unnecessary repetition of the object.

Let’s have a look at the table with the direct object pronouns in English and Spanish.

English Spanish
Me Me
You Te
Him, Her, It,
You (formal)
Lo, La
Us Nos
You (Plural) Os
Them, You (Forma) Los, Las

Emma come la comida.

In our example, we want to replace the direct object “la comida” with direct object pronoun “La”, since la comida is female and singular.
In this case, the order of the words most of the time changes.

For example, if we need to say:
Emma eats it.
You can’t say: Emma come la. That’s completely incorrect!

A woman eating a green apple. Examples of replacing the direct object by direct object pronoun written on the image in Spanish
Emma la come

Come” is a conjugated verb. When there is one verb, and it is conjugated the direct object pronoun always goes before the conjugated verb. 

Emma eats food => Emma eats it.
Emma come la comida. => Emma la come
.

See what’s going on here and why it gives us such a hard time? It’s like talking backwards.

In English you put the direct object pronoun in the same order you would put the direct object. But in Spanish, you have to put a direct object pronoun before the conjugated verb.

Important to remember that direct object pronouns always agree with the noun that it replaces in number (singular or masculine) and in gender (male or female).

A woman holding a plate with chicken  and an example of direct object pronouns in Spanish are written on the image
Example of using direct object pronoun in Spanish

Patricia eats chicken => Patricia eats it. 
Patricia come el pollo => Patricia lo come
We use “Lo” this time because pollo is singular and masculine. 

Andrea has the pen => Andrea has it.
Andrea tiene la pluma => Andrea la tiene.
We use “La” because la pluma is a feminine noun, therefore the direct object pronoun should be also feminine.

I am buying the shoes => I am buying them.
Estoy comprando unos zapatos => Los estoy comprando.
The same here, if the noun is plural, then the direct object pronoun must be used. 

Examples when the direct object is a person

Carlos invites you
Carlos te invita

Carlos invites us
Carlos nos invita

Dragon holding a sign with '"Hola" in Spanish written on it

I know you
Te conozco

She loves him
Ella
lo ama

Luisa sees him
Luisa lo ve

Alejandro called me yesterday
Alejandro me llamo ayer

When the direct object is a phrase

The direct object pronoun can replace the entire noun phrase.

Children eat many fresh apples => Children eat them
Los niños comen muchas manzanas frescas =>Los niños las comen

#3 How to use direct object pronouns when there are two verbs in the sentence

Same as in English, when there are two verbs next to each other, you conjugate the first one but not the second.

I want to eat the apple
Quero comer la manzana

In this example, “quero” is a conjugated form of querer, and “comer” is an infinitive form. 

So here is how the direct object pronoun works in a sentence with more than one verbs: 

You can put the direct object pronoun before the conjugated verb as we saw before, or after the unconjugated infinitive verb.

In the example, “I want to eat it,” we can choose one of the two options, and both of them are entirely correct:

a box with chocolate and an example of direct object pronount written on the image
Lo Quero comer = Quero Comerlo
  1. Lo quero comer
  2. Quero comerlo

If the object is feminine, for example, manzana, then you change it to La

  1. La quero comer 
  2. Quero comerla

They both mean the same thing. So it’s up to you which version you prefer to use. I prefer the second one because putting the direct object pronoun at the end of the sentence sounds more similar to English.
I want to eat it => Quero comerlo

#4. Direct object pronouns in negative sentences.

In negative sentences, the direct object pronoun always comes after “no” and before the conjugated verb.

I don’t buy it
No lo compro

I didn’t check it
No lo revise

Juan didn’t do it
Juan no lo hizo

When there are two verbs in the sentence, you can use any of the two options:

I want to finish it.
1.Lo quero terminar => No lo quero terminar
2.Quero terminarlo => No quero terminarlo

#5 Direct object pronouns in questions

Here everything is straightforward. The rules apply the same as to negative or affirmative sentences. 

I can finish it => Can I finish it? 
Lo puedo terminar => ¿Lo puedo terminar?

He wants them => Does he want them? 
El las quiere => ¿El las quiere?

She doesn’t want them => Doesn’t she want them?
Ella no las quiere => ¿Ella no las quiere?
 

#6 Don’t translate the sentences literally

Spanish and English languages are quite different. And while trying to translate some direct object pronouns from Spanish to English can work very well, some other times, it only creates a mess.

Example where translation works:
Filippo come manzanas => Filippo las come
Filippo eats apples => Filippo eats 
them 

Example, where translation doesn’t work:
Lo compré => It I bought (Completely wrong translation)
The correct translation would be: I bought it

As you can see the direct translation doesn’t always work, so you shouldn’t do it. Later on, you will learn to translate groups of words and phrases without translating it word by word. 

Once you get an understanding of how to use the Spanish direct object pronouns, it’s time to move to learning how to use indirect object pronouns. In this article, you will find plenty of information.

Hope this post was helpful for someone else as it was for me!