Unstressed object pronouns
(Los pronombres átonos)

The pronombres átonos in Spanish have no direct equivalent in English; they are pronouns that are always found next to, and sometimes attached to, verbs. They are called "átonos" or "unstressed" because they never carry a main stress in a sentence. The easiest way to remember them, though, is probably to memorize them, because there are relatively few: me, te, le, lo, la, nos, os, les, los, las, and se.

The pronombres átonos are object pronouns, which mean they can often be translated as English me, you, him, her, it, us, and them. Always keep in mind, though, that English doesn't have any exact equivalent for these pronouns, so be careful with direct translation. Note the differences in word order in these sentences, and in the translation of lo:

Carla lo llamó. / Carla called him.
Leandro me lo mandó por correo. / Leandro sent it to me by mail.

There are two main things to review with the pronombres átonos: their position with respect to verbs and the use of direct versus indirect object pronouns.

By the way, if you haven't had much experience with grammar and grammatical terminology, you might want to review the difference between subject, direct object, and indirect object. There's a good review here.

La posición de los pronombres átonos

Remember: The pronombres átonos are always next to or attached to a verb.

With conjugated verbs, the pronombres átonos come directly before the verb that they are being used with:

Ya se lo dije.
Susana está aquí pero no nos ve.
Jorge cree que nadie le presta atención.

With the infinitive (-ar, -er, -ir) and gerund (-ando, -iendo) forms, the pronombres átonos are attached to the end of the verb:

Creo que es mejor decírselo de una vez.
Jorge cree que debemos prestarle más atención.
Elena sigue dándole consejos.

Probably the most complicated verb forms when it comes to positioning the pronombres átonos are the command forms. The rule here is that the positive commands have the pronombres átonos at the end, like the infinitives or the gerunds, and the negative commands have the pronombres átonos in front, like other conjugated verbs:

No se lo digas.
No se lo diga.

*The accent is necessary on these forms because adding the two pronombres átonos onto the end causes the stress to fall on the third or fourth from last syllable, and words of this type always need a written accent in Spanish.

LE(S) vs. LO(S) y LA(S)

Because the pronombres átonos me, te, nos, and os can be used for either direct or indirect objects, you don't have to worry about figuring out whether they are direct or indrect objects. Choosing between le(s), lo(s), and la(s) is more complicated. We'll talk a little about se here, but there's a separate description of the uses of se later in this unit.

The basic distinction between le/les and lo/los/la/las is that le/les are indirect object pronouns, and lo/los/la/las are direct object pronouns. As those names indicate, a direct objects is a person or thing directly affected by the action of the verb - for example, in the sentence "I threw the ball to him", "the ball" is the direct object. The indirect object is a person or thing indirectly affected by the action of the verb; in the above sentence, "him" is the indirect object; English often uses the prepositions "to" or "for" with indirect objects. For a longer explanation of direct & indirect objects in English, visit this site.

In Spanish, you can indicate the direct and indirect objects in a way very similar to English. For example, in the sentence Yo tiré la pelota a él, la pelota (ball) is the direct object and él (him) is the indirect object. However, this sentence sounds a little strange in Spanish, because it is more common to use the pronombres átonos to express pronominal objects. A better way to say "I threw the ball to him" would be:

Yo le tiré la pelota. (le = indirect object = "to him")

And if we want to say "He threw it back to me", it would be:

Él me la devolvió. (me = indirect object = "to me", la = direct object = "it")

Notice that in both examples above, the English indirect object (him, me) is indicated with the preposition"to".

Spanish has a very particular rule when le(s) and lo(s)/la(s) would end up next to each other in a sentence, because that combination of pronombres átonos is not allowed. In these cases, the le(s) changes to se, which still acts as an indirect object. The sentence "I threw it (the ball) to him", (it = direct object = lo / him = indirect object = le), would be:

Yo se la tiré. (se = indirect object = "to him", la = direct object = "it")


[Return to Unit 2]