Consider the following sentence in English:

Mike passes Violet to Victoria.

In this sentence, Violet is the direct object and Victoria is the indirect object. When translating this to Spanish, I would write

Mike pasa a Violet a Victoria.

Is this construction correct? The first "a" preceding Violet is placed where it is because Violet is a person who is also the direct object. Now, suppose I wanted to include a direct object pronoun to reference Violet, but still clarify Violet is the direct object. In this case, I would write

Mike la pasa a Violet a Victoria.

Is this still correct? Pending everything so far is correct, suppose I finally want to forget whom Mike passed Violet to, so I drop the indirect object 'Victoria' and write

Mike la pasa a Violet.

Is this last sentence a correct translation of "Mike passes Violet"? If so, isn't it ambiguous if Violet is the direct or indirect object? Truly, given the sentence "Mike la pasa a Violet," I would translate it as "Mike passes it to Violet" if given no contextual information.

To sum up:

1) Are the first two translations into Spanish correct translations of the sentence "Mike passes Violet to Victoria."?

2) Is the sentence "Mike la pasa a Violet" ambiguous in what role (direct or indirect object) Violet has within the sentence?


3 Answers 3


This is a potential source of ambiguity, and although the sentence you have sounds rather odd, there are ways of removing all ambiguity.

To answer the first part of your question, yes, "Mike pasa a Violet a Victoria" is an accurate, if ambiguous translation.

However, "Mike la pasa a Violet a Victoria" is not, because the direct object pronoun cannot generally coappear with an post-verbal explicit object pronoun. This is different from the indirect object pronouns that are generally quite commonly included redundantly ("Mike le pasa a Violet a Victoria"), but that still doesn't make our sentence unambiguous.

Because we have a name, we are not able to take advantage of the rule that lets us drop the a personal for animate objects and must introduce both Violet and Victoria with it. That said, there is still another trick we can use to remove the ambiguity. If an explicit direct or indirect object appears pre-verbally, there must be a corresponding (and redundant) object pronoun:

A Victoria le pasa a Violet.
A Violet la pasa a Victoria.

In both of these cases, we know for a fact who is the indirect and the direct object (n.b.: that still doesn't make them sound good). Because Victoria is positioned before the verb, we must include the object pronoun we associate with her. In the first sentence, by including le we know that she must thus be the indirect object pronoun and Violet ends up being the direct. In the second, the opposite happens: because we have la we know that Violet must be the direct object and Victoria the indirect.

Other strategies you can use, if you absolutely must name both people, and depending on the exact verb, could include substituting the preposition a with para for the indirect object (for example, Mike pasa a Violet para Victoria). This technically means there isn't an indirect object anymore, but that's more of a pedantic distinction. Some verbs this sounds better with than others. You could also use the direct object's proper name as an appositive for some other descriptive noun, such as "Mike pasa su amiga, Violet, a Victoria" which enables the deletion of the a personal.

As you can see, in general, it's best to avoid these situations. The only time they really come up is, as in Gustavson's sentences, the verb presentar where ultimately it doesn't make a huge difference anyways who's being introduced to whom.

To answer your last question, in the sentence "Mike la pasa a Violet", Violet is definitively the indirect object, because we have a direct object pronoun that cannot coappear with an explicit direct object after the verb. Thus the only interpretation is that Mike passed something/someone (the la) to Violet.

  • Thank you so much for your answer. However, I swear I've seen cooccurrence of the d.o. pronoun along with an explicit d.o. post verb. For example, "Él lo trata bien a su hijo." I've read this several times before, and here "lo" and "su hijo" are both referring to the d.o. -- perhaps this is an example of an understood, but grammatically incorrect statement?
    – Tom
    Feb 14, 2017 at 3:55
  • 1
    @Tom it's possible under certain conditions (hence I put "generally" in my answer), especially in emphatic contexts, but those aren't as common. In most of the Spanish speaking world, "Lo trata bien a su hijo" would be considered non-standard, although according to the DPD it's somewhat common—at least with proper names— in rioplatense Spanish. Feb 14, 2017 at 4:01
  • @guifa I gave you an upvote because I found your answer quite good but: (1) I don't think "para" works with "passing people" and (2) I don't think introducing A to B is the same as introducing B to A, even if the result (mutual knowledge) ends up being the same.
    – Gustavson
    Feb 14, 2017 at 8:59
  • @Gustavson I agree on both. The sentence with pasar just sounds odd in general, but that's why I pointed out the para swap doesn't work well with all verbs. With respect to (2) all I meant to say is that because the result is the same with the verb presentar, confusing the DO and IO doesn't hugely affect understand (whereas with most verbs, mistaking them would create a very different meaning, say, killing A for B's benefit or killing B for A's benefit, someone different is dead ;-) ) Feb 14, 2017 at 14:42
  • @guifa You are right about "inverted" introductions not involving too many risks. One would tend to think that the guest is to be introduced to the hosts. Which would be more agreeable to parents and girlfriend?: Te presento a mis padres or Les presento a mi novia? Context is essential here. If Violet is a baby, or a pet, no ambiguity will be possible. Or in a sentence like: Interpol entregó al Chapo Guzmán al agente de policía, there can be no doubt was was turned in to whom.
    – Gustavson
    Feb 14, 2017 at 16:22

The rule says that when you have a personal direct object (DO) and an indirect one (IO), the preposition "a" that would normally precede the direct object can be "sacrificed" to avoid ambiguity (in your sentence, the one "passed" -- presumably a baby -- takes no "a", and the one to whom the DO is "passed", that is, the IO, takes "a"). However, this is not possible when the DO is a proper name.

See 1.2. (d) here: d) Cuando el complemento directo de persona precedido de preposición coincide en la oración con otro complemento que también la lleva (por ejemplo, un complemento indirecto), puede omitirse la que antecede al complemento directo, para evitar confusiones: Presentó (a) su novio a sus padres. Pero si el complemento directo es un nombre propio, es forzoso el uso de la preposición: Presentó a Juan a sus padres.

"presentar" is actually a more natural and likely verb to be used when two people are involved as objects of an action.

If a baby is being passed, I wouldn't use her name but the common noun: "Mike pasa la beba a Victoria" or "Mike le pasa la beba a Victoria." All the other sentences sound both terrible and confusing to me.

  • Thank you for your answer! I agree that there might be better or more common ways to express what I wrote above. I apologize that the sentences sound terrible to you, but what I want to know is whether all of them are grammatically correct and, moreover, if the final sentence -- if grammatically correct -- is ambiguous in the information being disseminated.
    – Tom
    Feb 14, 2017 at 3:45
  • The only one that sounds a bit better is: Mike pasa a Violet a Victoria.
    – Gustavson
    Feb 14, 2017 at 3:51
  • @Gustavson concuerdo contigo, la única forma que no me suena fatal es esa, a pesar de ser ambigua. Feb 14, 2017 at 3:53
  • @guifa Si bien no elimina la ambigüedad, el orden DO-IO arroja un poco de claridad: A entrega a B a C = A -> B -> C
    – Gustavson
    Feb 14, 2017 at 8:47

I will change the baby's name to one that doesn't start with V, so it's less confusing.

  1. Mike passes Mariana to Victoria.

    a. Mike pasa a Mariana a Victoria.

    b. Mike la pasa a Mariana a Victoria.

(a) is correct but for (b) we need to fix the pronoun. It should be "le" instead of "lo" because "lo" is the direct pronoun and "le" is indirect. Thus:

Mike le pasa a Mariana a Victoria.


  1. Mike passes Mariana.

    a. Mike la pasa a Mariana.

This is no good in English or Spanish. It's an incomplete sentence fragment, similar to chopping off part of

Henry lent me a book.

to end up with just

Henry lent me

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.