Discover a New You in the New Year with 44% off Mango! ​       LEARN MORE>

What is ‘a personal’ and how to use it in Spanish?

3 young women laughing and having fun together in front of a door.

The a personal, as its name implies, is used to introduce a human direct object, for instance: Veo a Luis. (I see Luis.) This use of the preposition “a (a personal) does not have an English equivalent. With that said, did you know it can also be used for pets? Did you know some verbs can go either with or without a personal? I can’t wait to take you on the journey of a personal and its uses! Let’s check them out!

Table of Contents

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

What is a direct object?

A direct object is a noun phrase in a sentence that directly receives the action. It can easily be found by asking “who” or “what” + subject + verb. For example:

Marisol come unos esquites en el Mercado de Coyoacán.
Marisol eats some esquites at the Coyoacán Market.

Subject: Marisol
Verb: come
What does Marisol eat? Unos esquites. Unos esquites
is the direct object of the sample sentence.

photo-1613585269383-3e68182bdb23-e1674028879153.jpg

What is ‘a personal’?

As mentioned before, the a personal in Spanish is a preposition that you will find before certain direct objects. It helps us distinguish objects from subjects. As a rule of thumb, the a personal is used whenever a direct object is a person (or persons) or a pet. For example:

Mi mamá ama a mi papá. Siempre me ha dicho que es el amor de su vida.
My mom loves my dad. She has always told me he is the love of her life.  

Ella adoptó a su gata hace dos meses.
She adopted her cat two months ago.

With that said, there are more specific rules in place to decide whether or not the a personal is needed. We will divide those rules into three categories: always, never, and sometimes (it depends on the speaker and the message they want to convey).

Group 1 - ALWAYS

Use a personal when the direct object is a HUMAN (or humanized) and SPECIFIC.
What do I mean by human (or humanized)? It means the direct object can be one person (señora (lady), papá (dad), doctor (doctor, physician)), a group of people, or proper names. It can also mean the direct object can be other parts of speech that are taking the role of a person (pronouns like “me” and “them,” for example). Humanized direct objects can be pets — creatures we hold so near and dear to our heart that they are almost like parts of our family! When I say specific, I mean the direct object we are referring to is distinct, not just any lady or any dad, but rather one that I am distinctly singling out of all the possible people out there. To help you out, here are some cues to look out for:
  • The proper name of a person or animal.

Conocí a Adele después de su concierto y me cayó super bien.
I met Adele after her concert and I liked her very much.

La familia de mi mejor amigo ama a Noodle, mi perro.
My best friend’s family loves Noodle, my dog.

  • One of the following pronouns (aka Spanish prepositional object pronouns):
    (me), ti (you), él (him), ella (her), usted (you, formal), nosotros, nosotras (us), vosotros, vosotras (you, plural, Spain), ustedes (you, plural, LATAM), ellos, ellas (them).

¿Me conociste a mí hace dos o tres años? -Siento que te conozco de toda la vida.
Did you meet me two or three years ago? -I feel like I have known you my whole life.

¿Viste a Melissa en el evento de ayer?
No me menciones a esa (=Melissa), no la soporto.

Did you see Melissa at yesterday’s event?
Don’t mention that one (=Melissa) to me, I can’t stand her.

  • A Spanish indefinite pronoun (alguien/nadie (someone/nobody), alguno/ninguno (one/none), quienquiera (whoever), etc.) that refers to a person.

¿Conoces a alguien que pueda ayudarme con la remodelación de la cocina?
Do you know anyone who can help me with the kitchen remodel?

  • Quantifiers todos (everyone), varios (some), pocos (few), muchos (many) when referring to people.

Ayer vi a todos mis amigos en el centro comercial y la pasamos súper a gusto.
Yesterday I saw all my friends at the mall and we had a great time.

  • When building a question, the a personal will show up before the Spanish interrogative quién (who) and whenever cuál (which) refers to people.

¿A quién visitaste en Nueva York? No sabía que conocías a gente allí.
Who did you visit in New York? I did not know you knew people there.

¿A cuál de las chicas conociste?
Which of the girls did you meet?

  • A noun that is formed by people, such as community, council, committee, etc. and the verb used is an action that can only be exerted upon people and not things.

Multaron a la institución por no reciclar.
The institution was fined for not recycling.

  • Used before the Spanish relative pronouns quien (who), quienes (who plural), el que (the one who), los que (the ones who), la que (the one who, feminine), las que (the ones who, feminine, plural) whenever the relative pronoun is replacing a human noun.

Esa es la chica a la que entrevistaron en las noticias anoche.
That is the girl that was interviewed by the news last night.

Esos doctores, a quienes admiras, vienen para una conferencia el próximo mes.
Those doctors, who you admire, are coming for a conference next month.

Group 2 - NEVER

Do not use a personal when the direct object is…
  • An inanimate object

    Compré unos libros en la venta de patio.
    I bought some books at the yard sale.

  • A pluralized common noun for people and it is indefinite or not specific.

    Visité enfermos en el hospital.
    I visited sick people at the hospital.

  • A proper noun for a country or city.

    Quiero conocer Italia. Siempre ha sido mi sueño visitar Asís.
    I want to visit Italy. It has always been my dream to visit Assisi.

Exception!

Unless it’s personified/humanized: Amo a mi país (I love my country).

  • Followed by the verb haber (there is/are)
  • Hay un chico esperándote en la sala. ¿Qué le digo?
    There is a guy waiting for you in the living room. What should I tell him?

IMPORTANT

If you’re building a sentence with haber that also uses alguien or nadie (someone, nobody), alguno or ninguno (one, none) etc, the haber rule still applies!

¿Hay alguien que quiera ir al cine conmigo?
Is there anyone who wants to go to the movies with me?

  • An undomesticated animal

    Quise tocar el koala, pero no se permite hacerlo en esta reserva natural.
    I wanted to pet the koala, but it isn’t allowed at this natural reserve.

Group 3 - It depends…

The following verbs may or may not require a personal:

    • The choice of the a personal depends on whether the speaker chooses to identify the direct object as specific or not.

Prefiero un albañil que no cobre mucho por su trabajo.
I prefer a plumber that doesn’t charge much for their work.
⤷ meaning “any plumber” — I don’t have one specific in mind

Prefiero a un albañil que no cobre mucho por su trabajo.
I prefer a plumber that does not charge too much for their job.
⤷ specifically one that doesn’t charge much

TIP Although this applies to most verbs that use a human direct object as its complement, some of the most frequent verbs are:
preferir (to prefer), necesitar (to need), buscar (to look for), querer (to want), contratar (to hire), llevar (to take), traer (to bring), ver (to see), conocer (to know a person/place), elegir (to choose), seleccionar (to select), escoger (to choose)

Llevaré amigos a tu fiesta, espero que no te moleste.
I will take friends to your party, I hope you do not mind.

Llevaré a mis amigos a tu fiesta, espero que no te moleste.
I will take my friends to your party, I hope you do not mind.

IMPORTANT

Remember that when a verb is followed by a proper noun, the a personal is always required!

Llevaré a María a la fiesta, espero que no te moleste.
I will take María to the party, I hope you do not mind.

  • The verb tener (to have) might require the a personal.
  • When talking about close relationships with verb tener, it is not needed. But if it is used to talk about having people in certain roles, then the preposition will be used.

    Tengo tres tíos que viven en Houston y solamente los veo cada dos años.
    I have three uncles that live in Houston and I only see them every two years.

    Mi papá tiene a mi hermana de diseñadora gráfica y le ha pedido que haga todo el trabajo con su página web. Mi hermana no está contenta.
    My dad has my sister as a graphic designer and has asked her to do all the work with his website. My sister is not happy.

To sum up

Prepositions in Spanish have many layers and rules, but they are not impossible. I like to tell my students that the a personal, with practice, does get easier. Don’t forget that for everyday uses, we have a wonderful rule of thumb: a personal when our direct objects are people or pets. If you can remember that, you will be halfway there! I recommend that while you read in Spanish you pay attention to the use of a personal in context. That type of reading is helpful, because you are actively experiencing the rules as you experience the language. Finally, I have put together this handy flowchart and this activity to get you to practice whether or not you need the personal a (answer keys are provided).
Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar

Demonstrative adjectives modify nouns by identifying them based on how close or far they are in time and space. Examples include: “these,” “those,” “that,” etc.

Meet The Author:
Author-Britt Marie Solis
Brittmarie Solís
Spanish Teacher
Brittmarie is an experienced Spanish Teacher with an MA in Foreign Language Teaching.

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

Extra Resources:

'A' personal

Activities:

'A' personal activity

Activities:

'A' personal 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