I give it to you, you give it to me

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Te lo doy, me lo das.

What’s up with all those me, le, la, lo, se, te? Here’s how they work:

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

Ok, before we start, you should read this blog post and try to understand the two grammatical cases: accusative (as in “I accuse John,” where John is the direct object) and dative (as in “I give John a book,” where John is the indirect object, and there’s also a direct object which is the book).

Now that you’ve reviewed the two cases, can you understand why the caption for Obama’s pic says “El presidente lo llamó por teléfono y le explicó el problema”? In the first sentence, the person is a direct object (Obama called him), while in the second sentence, the person is an indirect object (Obama explained something to him).

So, let’s review the pronouns. Remember they always go right before the verb (making everything even more confusing):

Direct object pronouns: me, te, lo, la, nos, [os], los, las
Indirect object pronouns: me, te, le, nos, [os], les

The problem is, of course, the third person. All the other ones are identical for both cases.

So, when the person is a direct object (for verbs like llamar, amar, visitar, ayudar, besar, etc), the pronoun will always be lo/la (I help him, lo ayudo, I love her, la amo, Obama called him, Obama lo llamó).

And, when the person is an indirect object (as in “[verb] something to the person,” which happens with verbs like mostrar, explicar, decir, dar, enseñar, etc.), the pronoun will always be le (I give him a flower, le doy una flor, I teach something to her, le enseño algo, Obama explained the problem to him, Obama le explicó el problema).

Here’s what happens: in the examples we just gave you, una flor, algo, and el problema are direct objects, so they can also be replaced by a pronoun (lo for algo, la for una flor, lo for el problema). If we want to use pronouns for both direct an indirect objects, we have to follow these two rules:

1. Indirect object pronoun goes first.
2. Third person indirect object pronouns (le/les) become “se.”

Here are some examples:

No pronouns IO pronoun only Pronoun for both DO and IO
Obama explicó el problema a Juan. Obama le explicó el problema. Obama se lo explicó.
Doy un libro a María. Le doy un libro. Se lo doy.
Digo algo a Pedro y a Juan. Les digo algo. Se lo digo.

Does that make sense? Hopefully it does!

Obama le explicó el problema.


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