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Direct Object

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2014-09-19 – © Baldo Partners: Hector Cantú & Carlos Castellanos; Universal UClick

What is a Direct Object?

Grammatically, the direct object is the person or thing which directly receives the action of the verb. For example:

  • John throws the ball.

In the above sentence, “the ball” is the thing which directly receives the action of the verb “to throw”. It is often said that the direct object is the person or thing which is the answer to one of these questions:

  • (Verb) what? (ie., throws what?)
  • (Verb) who? (ie., throws who?)

In English, the direct object frequently directly follows the verb, but it doesn’t have to:

  • John throws Bill the ball.
  • John throws the ball to Bill.

In both examples above, the direct object remains “the ball” regardless of where it appears in the sentence. What matters is not word order, but rather the function of the word within the sentence.

When the direct object is known, or understood, from earlier portions of a conversation, it is often replaced, in both English and Spanish, with a direct object pronoun:

  • Does John throw the ball?
  • Yes, he throws it.

Here, the direct object pronoun “it” replaces the noun “the ball” in the reply as “the ball” is understood and doesn’t need to be repeated.

The direct object and/or the direct object pronoun can also be a person:

  • John sees Mary.
  • John sees her.

Direct Object Pronouns in Spanish

Here are the direct object pronouns used in Spanish:

Person Singular Plural
me nos
te os
lo or la los or las

Thus, in Spanish:

  • ¿Juan tira la pelota?
  • Sí, la tira.

In the first sentence above, “la pelota” is the direct object, receiving the action of the verb tirar. In the response, “la” stands in for the feminine singular direct object.

Placement of the direct object pronouns

As we see in the example above, direct object pronouns very often immediately precede the verb:

  • Sí, la tira.

While this word order is foreign to a native speaker of English, it is by far the most common placement of direct object pronouns in Spanish, and will soon feel “normal” to you.

Other possible, valid locations for placing the direct object pronoun are:

  • after, and attached to an infinitive:
    • ¿Juan va a tirar la pelota?
    • Sí, va a tirarla.
  • after, and attached to a direct affirmative command:
    • ¿Juan va a tirar la pelota?
    • Sí, Juan, por favor, ¡tírala! (note the addition of the accent)
  • after, and attached to the progressive participle:
    • ¿Juan está tirando la pelota?
    • Sí. Está tirándola. (note the addition of the accent)

Frequency of Use

For the frequency with which the above direct object pronouns are used, see the following excerpt from the Frequency Dictionary:

#Freq.Vocab ItemPart of SpeechEnglish
121lo, lospronounit, him, them (masc. 3rd person direct object pronoun)
you (masc. formal 2nd person direct object pronoun)
233la, laspronounit, her, them (fem. 3rd person direct object pronoun)
you (fem. formal 2nd person direct object pronoun)
335mepronounme, to me, myself (1st person sing. object pronoun)
465nospronounus, to us, ourselves (1st person plural object pronoun)
5136tepronounyou, to you, yourself (fam. 2nd person sing. object pronoun)
61373ospronounyou all, to you all, yourselves (familiar 2nd person plural object pronoun)