Friday, October 8, 2010

Lo vs. Le

A former student suggested this topic. I had draw some cartoons to explain to my current students the object pronouns, so I am recycling those drawings, not because they're good drawing, but because they may help to explain the differences between “lo” and “le.”

Perhaps “lo” and “le” are confusing because of the following:

  1. Both are singular,
  2. In Spain, “le” is used instead of “lo” in some cases, and
  3. In English, both mean “it” and “him.”

But what is an object pronoun?

Basically, we use a proun instead of the noun. When we don't want to repeat a name (noun), we say, you, it, we, us, etc. Object pronouns are related to nouns (people, institutions, places, ideas, animals) who are part of a sentece, but they are NOT the subject (the noun doing the action) of the sentence. For example,

He reads a book.

He = subject
reads = verb
a book = noun that is not the subject = object

Juliet kissed Romeo.

Juliet = subject
kissed = verb
Romeo = noun that is not the subject = object

These are the pronouns and the rules (formulas) to use them:

1 verbo =
s + po + v
ejemplo: Yo lo leo.

2 verbos=
s + po + v1 + v2
ejemplo: Yo lo voy a leer.

s + v1 + v2po
ejemplo: Yo voy a leerlo.

(+) imperativo (one word) 

Lee el libro. 


(-) no pronoun imperativo (three words or more)

No leas el libro.

No lo leas

Objeto                        POD       POI
A mí                           me           me
A ti                             te             te
A él/ella/usted           lo/la         le
A nosotros/as            nos           nos
A vosotros/as            os             os
A ustedes/ellos/as     los/las     les

A direct object is involved in the action, while the indirect object receives the benefit of the action. These are my drawings to explain the direct object.

 Here, the person is the subject who is reading (verb) a book (direct object).

Now, one person (subject) loves (verb) another person (direct object)

There is not a problem when using these verbs with noun that are not people. The problem arises when we talk about other people, family pets, or institutions. Most verbs related to feelings—such as amar (to love), odiar (to hate), and extrañar (to miss)–need a direct object. Think about in this way, “I love you, you are the object of my love.” Other verbs that use a direct object are pintar (to paint), dibujar (to draw), tocar (to touch), etc.


Julieta ama a Romeo. → Julieta lo ama.
No me toques. → Don't touch me.
Picasso no pintó a Dalí. → Picasso no lo pintó.
Mi madre extraña a mi padre. → Mi madre lo extraña.

Notice that in order to include a person who is not the subject, we need to connect him/her with the preposition “a.” This is just to distinguish that this other person is not the subject.

There are a lot of communication and transportation verbs. When we use these verbs, something goes from one (or more) subject to another. For example, hablar (to talk), enviar (to send), dar (to give), pedir (to ask/request for something), escribir (to write), llamar por teléfono (call on the phone), etc.
These verbs are called, “transitivos” or transitive in English. Think about “transit,” which is moving from point A to point B. 

In the drawing below, a person (subject) gives (verb) his heart (direct object) to another person (indirect object).

Now consider:

Mi tía llama por teléfono a su amiga. (My aunt calls her friend on the phone)
a su amiga = indirect object

Mi tía le llama por teléfono a su amiga.

Le = indirect object pronoun

Notice that the direct object and the direct object pronoun are usually not used in the same sentence, but the indirect object and the indirect object are used in the same sentence, especially when the indirect object is singular and the second person formal (usted), or anybody from the third person (él, ella, uno).

Otros ejemplos:

Mi hermano le envía un mensaje electrónico a su novia. (My brother sends an email to his girlfriend)

Ellos me hablaron por teléfono. (They called me on the phone)
Yo les hablé por teléfono. (I called them on the phone, or by phone)
Mi madre me compó una camiseta. (My mom bought me a t-shirt)
Yo le compré un vestido a mi madre. ( I bought my mother a dress)
Nosotros le pedimos juguetes a Santa todos los años. (We ask Santa for toys every year)
Ana le regala un libro a Juan. (Ana gives a book to Juan as a present)
Ellos le dicen la verdad a la policía. (They tell the truth to the police)

If it helps, drop me a nice comment.

direct and indirect object in English =


  1. Gracias, Lulú. Es muy claro. Mi pregunta: Hay verbos que siempre necesitan objetos INdirectos...por ejemplo el verbo "ayudar"
    < Voy a ayudarle> o ?

  2. Ms. Lulu,
    In the sentence, "Ellos le dicen la verdad a la policía", isn't "le" redundant given that "a la policia" is being stated at the end?

  3. so if it is a human direct object can you use lo o le?

  4. Lulu - is this part correct? you say:
    but the indirect object and the indirect object are used in the same sentence

  5. Estos ejemplos ayudan a mis estudiantes. Gracias.