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So I have been trying to translate the sentence "the Government lacks money". My understanding is that the correct answer is to say "al Gobierno le falta dinero".

Why is it al Gobierno and not el Gobierno? Is the Government being treated as a person, and if so then why is it not simply a Gobierno? Is there ever a way (that is, does it give it a different meaning) I could say el Gobierno? Is this specific to faltar?

Related — I understood from a Venezuelan friend that I could say "el Gobierno necesita dinero". Similarly I could say "al perro le falta comida" but for a person it is "a Sara le falta comida".

Any clarity on how and why this rule works would be appreciated!

Thanks!

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Checking the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas, I see that the verb faltar is an intransitive verb. So, in the sentence

Al gobierno le falta dinero.

"Dinero" is the subject, and "al gobierno" is the indirect object. That's why in all these sentences the object always has the preposition a:

A la paella le falta sal.
Al juguete le faltan pilas.
A este piso le faltan habitaciones.
A la mesa le falta estabilidad.

Note also that the verb agrees with the subject. It's tricky because this is a case in which the order of the sentence is inverted: the indirect object goes first, and the subject goes last. It's a similar case as the construction

A María le gusta Pedro.

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    I think @williamb will better understand if you add that "Al Gobierno" is the short and correct way to say "A el Gobierno" – DGaleano Nov 11 '16 at 19:53
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Intransitive verbs such as gustar and faltar need to have an indirect object. When this is a common noun, we say al / a la, but with a proper noun when can only use a.

Examples:

A Sara le gusta el chocolate

Al perro le gusta el chocolate

A la mujer le gusta el chocolate

And the same with faltar/molestar/interesar/encantar, etc.

A Sara le molesta el ruido

Al perro le molesta el ruido

A la mujer le molesta el ruido

Extra note:

Please also remember that señor/señora/señorita and doctor always take the article when you refer to them (but when not speaking to them directly) so:

Al señor López le interesa esta película.

But no a when speaking directly to him:

Señor López, ¿le interesa esta película?

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