How to use direct and indirect object pronouns in Spanish?

A man wearing a traditional South American hat.

Direct and indirect object pronouns are used to replace the direct object or indirect object of a sentence. While in English direct and indirect pronouns are used after the verb (I ate it), in Spanish they are usually placed before the conjugated verb (Lo comí). However, this is not always the case, especially when these pronouns are with other forms of verbs. In these cases, the object pronoun is placed after the verbal form (comerlo). Let’s see what direct and indirect objects are, which pronouns can be used for these functions, and finally how they are placed!

Table of Contents

For a review of grammar terms used in the post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end!

What is a direct/indirect object?

A direct object is the noun or noun phrase that is directly acted upon by the verb, and the indirect object is the recipient or goal of that action. Let’s take a look at these examples:

  • Ana describe un cuadro. 
  • Ana describes a picture.
  • Ana describe a sus hijos. 
  • Ana describes her children.

In the examples above, un cuadro and (a) sus hijos are the answers to the questions “what?” and “who(m),” respectively. (What does Ana describe? / Who(m) does Ana describe?). They are called “direct objects.”

Let’s take a look at this example now:

  • Ana describe un cuadro a sus hijos.
  • Ana describes a picture to her children.

In this example, we see a new element, a sus hijos (to her children). This element answers the question, “to who(m)?” and is called an “indirect object.” In fact, indirect objects answer the questions, “to who(m)” or “for who(m).”

Did you know? You see a sus hijos in both examples. Please don’t get confused by the use of “a“: in the first case, it is used because it precedes a direct object that is a person (this is a rule in Spanish) but in the second example it precedes an indirect object. The translations help to clear things up: when “a” precedes a direct object, it is not translated into English; when placed before an indirect object, it is usually translated as “to.” 

Which are the direct and indirect object pronouns?

Together, the direct and indirect object pronouns are me, te, nos, os, lo, la, los, las, le, and les. These pronouns are used to replace direct and indirect objects. For example:
  • Ana describe el cuadro. 
  • Ana lo describe.
  • Ana describes the picture
  • → Ana describes it.

For the direct and indirect object pronouns that correspond to yo (I), and vos (you – informal), nosotros and nosotras (we), vosotros and vosotras (you all) — which by the way is only used in Spain — you don’t need to get a headache remembering these grammar terms, because you just use the same pronoun for the direct and the indirect object:

tú, vos
nosotros, nosotras
vosotros, vosotras
(you all)
Spanish Object pronounsDirect objectmete nos os
Indirect objectmete nos os
English object pronounsmeyouusyou all
  • Nos invitó a su fiesta de cumpleaños.
  • He invited us to his birthday party.
  • Me regaló un libro.
  • He gave a book to me.

On the other hand, for the pronouns that correspond to él (he), ella (she), ellos (they – masculine), ellas (they – feminine) (either person or object), or to usted, ustedes (you – singular, formal / you all – formal) you use different words: 

él (he)ella (she)usted (you)ellos (they)ellas (they)ustedes (you all)
Direct objectlolalo/laloslaslos/las
Indirect objectleles
English object pronounshim / her / it you themyou

Be careful! Direct object pronouns must agree in gender and number with the nouns they are replacing. In the following example, el pastel is the direct object of the sentence and it is a masculine singular noun, that is why the pronoun we need to use is lo.

  • ¿Cocinaste el pastel?Si, lo cociné.
  • Did you cook the cake? → Yes, I cooked it.
Now, let’s look at the example below: the noun las cartas is the direct object in this sentence, this noun is feminine plural, thus, we should use the pronoun las.
  • ¿Enviaste las cartas?Sí, las envié.
  • Did you send the letters? → Yes, I sent them.
Need a refresher on how to tell the gender of Spanish nouns? How about, how to form the plural in Spanish?  Look no further, we have posts for that!

Indirect object pronouns, on the other hand, only agree in number with the nouns they refer to since there are only two forms and no distinction between masculine and feminine. In the examples below, we use the indirect object pronoun to replace “your mother” and “your father” and as you can see, we use the pronoun le in both cases.

  • ¿Compraste el regalo a tu madre? →  Sí, le compré el regalo.
  • Did you buy the present for your mother? → Yes, I bought the present for her.
  • ¿Diste el regalo a tu padre?Sí, le di el regalo.
  •  Did you give the present to your father? → Yes, I gave the present to him.

Now, let’s see how to place these pronouns in sentences.

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

Direct and indirect object pronouns are always placed before the conjugated verb in simple tenses – except the positive imperative – and perfect tenses (those with haber + past participle):

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’?

Se is another form of an indirect pronoun. When the indirect pronouns le and les are combined with the direct object pronouns 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

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

Positive imperativeInfinitiveGerund
Verb formcomecomercomiendo
Direct objectcómelocomerlocomiéndolo
Verb formescribeescribirescribiendo
Indirect objectescríbemeescribirmeescribiéndome
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):
Positive imperativeInfinitiveGerund
Verb formcompracomprarcomprando
Direct objectcómpralocomprarlocomprándolo
Indirect objectcómpralecomprarlecomprándole

Indirect object
Direct object

As you may have observed, some verb forms have an accent mark when combined with these pronouns. 

Pronouns with verb combinations

At times, object pronouns will be used alongside 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 trabajar 
  • I have to work.
  • 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 pronoun(s) 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 for you.
  • Tengo que enviárselo.  
  • 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!


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 combinations, 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 or les and a 3rd person direct object pronoun appear together, le(s) changes to se. See the examples below for a brief summary of all the cases we mentioned in this post!

  • Placement with simple and perfect tenses:
    • ¿Compraste el libro?  Did you buy the book?
    • Sí, lo compré.  Yes, I bought it.
    • ¿Has escrito la carta a Juan?  Have you written the letter to Juan?
    • No le he escrito la carta todavía.  I haven’t written him the letter yet.
  • 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 or 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
    • comprarselo
    • 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.
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!
Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar
Gender represents categories in which nouns are split based on endings. In Spanish, there are two: masculine and feminine.

el chico (m.) the boy
la chica (f.) the girl

Number represents the quantity the noun refers to, meaning if it is singular or plural.

el chico (s.), los chicos (pl.) the boy, the boys
la chica (s.), las chicas (pl.) the girl, the girls

Meet The Author:
Author-De Nicolas Foto
Irati de Nicolás Saiz
Irati is a linguist and an experienced University Spanish teacher with a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

Extra Resources:

Direct/indirect object pronouns


Object pronouns activity


Object pronouns activity

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We’d also like to set analytics cookies that help us make improvements by measuring how you use the site. These will be set only if you accept.

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Analytics cookies

We’d like to set Google Analytics cookies to help us improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. The cookies collect information in a way that does not directly identify anyone. For more information on how these cookies work please see our ‘Cookies page’.

Skip to content