What are Direct Object Pronouns?
First, write the following two sentences on the board and underline or mark the direct object pronouns. Then say: When we say I see it or She loves him, the words it and him are known as direct object pronouns. They are pronouns because they stand in place of some noun that the speakers already have mentioned. It could be a book, a tree, anything really. Likewise, him could be any single male person: Tom, John – you name it.
They are objects because they are not the ones doing the action but are the ones that receive the actions: seeing and loving. They are called direct objects because they are acted upon; they receive the actions directly. This aspect of their definition will be clearer when indirect objects are learned, but for now, the term must be introduced – it will be essential for mastery of the double object pronoun constructions.
The direct object pronouns in English should be paired with their Spanish counterparts, using the six-hole paradigm of singulars to the left in a column and their corresponding plurals on the right. Thus, on the left:
me - me
te - you
lo/la - it, him, her
and to their right:
nos - us
(skip os - you if you wish)
los/las - them, you
Next, point out that me, te, nos (and os) are also used for reflexives and indirects, so that if they learn these forms, they will be ready for other ways of using them in future lessons. Tell them that there only a handful of object pronouns but they are very powerful little words. They do a lot of heavy lifting in Spanish, just as they do in English.
Have them write a few sentences in English using English direct object pronouns. Give them a verb list, using verbs like to look for, to see, to read, to bring, to invite and others whose Spanish infinitives they already know and that take direct object pronouns. Note: To avoid conceptual problems, avoid to call or to tell or to speak to – these require indirect object pronouns, even though millions of speakers often confuse this (and there is a leísta/loísta factor going on here to some extent).
The next step is to translate your two examples, to show the first lesson regarding the placement of object pronouns – object pronoun before conjugated verb. Thus: Yo lo veo or Yo la veo and Ella lo ama. Ask them why you have two sentences in Spanish for your sentence I see it. Have them offer examples of what nouns lo and la could be replacing.
Lastly, have them come to the board and write one or more of their English sentences. You might ask them to write their translations, depending on their confidence – or your confidence in them collectively or individually! Either way, this is when they get to see how easy it is to use the direct object pronouns, using their own sentences. If any students have sentences with auxiliary verbs (allowing for other placement) tell them that there will be other ways to do it, but for now, they should place the object pronoun before the first conjugated verb. After all, if they only remember that one rule, they will never go wrong, except when dealing with affirmative commands.
- Author’s more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.