The sentence:

Miguel le dio a su novia un anillo.

Translates into:

Miguel gave a ring to his girlfriend.

I would think that there would be no need for the "le", since the direct object (his girlfriend) is in the sentence. My understanding is that "le" is the 2nd person formal direct object pronoun and is used to replace the direct object.

Could someone explain this?

8 Answers 8


In this case le is a dative pronoun. You are correct in assuming it is redundant, as it actually is. :) Wikitionary has a very interesting entry on the subject that treats upon it in a usage note. It reads:

Note that when a sentence contains a noun that is an indirect object, a redundant indirect object le (or its plural form les) is also required.

For example:

  • "Yo le daré el libro a Jorge." (literally, "I will give him the book to Jorge")

where him/le corresponds to Jorge. This type of pronoun is obligatory.

In short it's redundant but required.

In fact, the rule given by Wiktionary is an oversimplification because, as you can see in the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas on Pronombres personales átonos - 5.2, the presence of the clitic pronoun is not really mandatory in all situations. But, if you follow it, that is, if you always duplicate the indirect object with such clitic pronouns, you will always end up with correct sentences.

  • 9
    I think that "le" is not mandatory in that sentence. "Yo daré el libro a Jorge" sounds good to me. Indeed RAE says it's optional in the section 5.2.a of this link.
    – Javi
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 8:45
  • 1
    OI is not required, so the pronoun for OI is neither required. You can say the complete way, the pronoun, or both. Suggested for oral: both. Suggested for academic writing: one, the complete first and then the pronoun in another sentence if you don't lost the meaning of the thing on the context. Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 9:27
  • 1
    I'm am downvoting this answer because, in my opinion, is not correct. What would be the problem with saying, for instance, "He escrito un e-mail a Juan" without any dative pronoun?
    – Charo
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 19:16

As a native speaker I want to point out that not having 'le' in there sounds broken.

I think the reason it's required is because you can have sentences without specific targets like this: "Yo di mi anillo." "I gave my ring." This has a kind of "broad" flavor, in that not only does the meaning lack a specific target, there is also a suggestion of the target being an abstraction, as in something like "I gave my ring to charity." (This is the flavor I get from it). If you put a 'le' in there, it becomes "Yo le di mi anillo." "I gave to him/her my ring." Which is a completely different meaning.

In your example, leaving out the 'le' starts the meaning off in a different direction than what the rest of the sentence does. So even in the case where it's redundant, you can think of 'le' as a kind of punctuation that keeps the meaning of the sentence from veering off into a targetless one before you've completed it.

So in this case it's not so much a matter of linguistic precision as it is a way of keeping the meaning consistent while the sentence is being read or spoken. That's my take on it anyway.

  • I like this point of view. It hits a bone in me. Parsing a long sentence with a faulty omission at the start of the sentence will really knock you off the wrong path of interpreting that sentence so by anchoring the meaning..... Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 23:32
  • I'm downvoting this answer because it's not in agreement with what standard grammar or linguistic books about Spanish report about this argument.
    – Charo
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 14:54

Your sentence is an example of what is called "redundancia pronominal" or "reduplicación/doblado de clíticos": there is an object in the canonical position ("a su novia" in your case) and also a clitic pronoun ("le" in your case) with the same syntactic function. As explained in the Enciclopedia de lingüística hispánica, by several authors, it's a phenomenon that singles out Spanish with respect to other Romance languages (but this is not exclusive of Spanish: this also happens in Catalan with a lower extent).

In your case, what is duplicated is the indirect object ("le" and "a su novia"). This book explains that there are situations in which such indirect object duplication is mandatory and others in which it is not, although the option with duplication is by far the preferred one.

The duplication is mandatory when the object (direct or indirect) in the canonical position is constructed with a pronoun (with some exceptions). For instance:

  • María me llamó a mi.
  • Yo le di el regalo a ella.

You cannot say "María llamó a mi" or "Yo di el regalo a ella". The exceptions to this rule are the pronouns "usted" and neutral "ello" which do not require duplication, as in these examples:

  • Para servir a usted.
  • Es cuanto tenemos que decir a usted, señor presidente. (CREA, España, 1996)
  • La EMT agradece a usted la utilización de sus autobuses.
  • Dedicaré a ello el siguiente capítulo.

In other cases, duplication of indirect object is mandatory or not depending on its semantic role: it's (relatively) optional when this object express the target or the recipient, as in this example,

  • María le entregó el paquete a su dueño / María entregó el paquete a su dueño

or these other examples from the book Gramática descriptiva de la lengua española, by several authors:

  • Le dijeron a Juan que viniera / Dijeron a Juan que viniera
  • Le dieron el premio al escritor / Dieron el premio al escritor

But duplication is mandatory when indirect object has other semantical roles: what are called experiential ("experimentantes")

  • Nunca le gustó realmente el cine a María (you cannot say "Nunca gustó realmente el cine a María"),

beneficiary ("beneficiarios")

  • María le hizo los deberes al niño (you cannot say "María hizo los deberes al niño"),
  • Le preparó un brebaje al enfermo (you cannot say "Preparó un brebaje al enfermo")

and (inalienable) possessor datives

  • Aquí le rompieron la pierna a Juan (you cannot say "Aquí rompieron la pierna a Juan"),
  • Le cortaron las uñas al niño (you cannot say "Cortaron las uñas al niño"),
  • Le duele la pierna a Pedro (you cannot say "Duele la pierna a Pedro").

Note that, in your sentence, "su novia" has the role of recipient, so it corresponds to one of the cases in which duplication is (relatively) optional: as in the example "Dieron el premio al escritor", one can also say "Miguel dio un anillo a su novia" or "Miguel dio a su novia un anillo" (which may have a slightly different nuance in meaning, but this would be the subject for another question).

Note also that what's being said in other answers, namely something like "I'm a native speaker and the version with the clitic pronoun le sounds better to me", completely agrees to what is explained in the above cited books in reference to the case in which the presence of the clitic pronoun is (relatively) optional:

la opción del doblado es, con mucho, la preferida

and Gramática descriptiva de la lengua española adds to this statement

Véanse Silva-Corvalán 1981 para el español chileno; Bentivoglio 1978 para el Caribe y Barrenechea y Orecchia 1977 para el bonaerense.

The book Complementos argumentales del verbo: directo, indirecto, suplemento y agente by José-Álvaro Porto Dapena, gives also an example which is very similar to your sentence, in this case written without the clitic pronoun:

  • Nicolás regaló una moto a su hijo

(you may also perfectly say "Nicolás le regaló una moto a su hijo").

In addition, this book provides some instances of situations that also require the presence of a clitic pronoun (this happens also in other Romance languages) without a duplication of the indirect object, namely, what are called "etic dative" ("dativo ético"), in which the presence of the clitic pronoun adds to the sentence an intensive value, expressing a greater participation of the subject in the action expressed by the verb,

  • Se bebieron toda la cerveza

and "possessive dative" ("dativo posesivo"), in which the clitic pronoun adds the semantical role of possession to other noun phrase present in the sentence:

  • Le llevaron el equipaje a la estación,
  • Nos ocuparon los asientos.

These are examples of a complete different phenomenon because, as you can see, there is no duplication of the indirect object in the above sentences; but it is a peculiar use of dative clitic pronouns which can also give rise to wondering about the role of such pronouns.

Notice that I've not included in the above explanation what are called "left dislocation" ("dislocación a la izquierda", for instance, "A Juan le han dado un premio") and "right dislocation" ("dislocación a la derecha", for example, "No le dieron el premio, a Juan"), which are different phenomena also requiring the presence of clitic pronouns that duplicate an indirect object and that are not characteristic of Spanish language, but are also present in other Romance languages. If you need some information about them, please see the last part of this answer.

  • I think this is completely irrelevant, but I'm also a native Spanish speaker (from Barcelona, Spain) and all the versions, namely, "Miguel le dio a su novia un anillo", "Miguel le dio un anillo a su novia", "Miguel dio a su novia un anillo" and "Miguel dio un anillo a su novia" sound correct to me.
    – Charo
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 18:59
  • 3
    For completeness, I would like to elaborate on the last part of my post, namely, the one which mentions dislocations. But I will do it when I have some free time in the future (I have spent too much time writing all this and I need to concentrate my mind on other things).
    – Charo
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 20:09
  • I know the feeling.... Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 21:44

After reading about the Indirect Object, I think the answer is that in the sentence

Miguel le dio a su novia un anillo.

Miguel's girlfriend is the indirect object and not the direct object as I had stated in the question. In that case, "le" is the correct indirect object pronoun to be used, to give direction to the action of giving of the ring (like amr said above).

  • 1
    Yes, "el anillo" is the direct object and "su novia" is the indirect one. The easiest way of discovering the direct object is to change the sentence to passive voice. The subject of the passive voice is the direct object of the active voice: "El anillo fue dado a su novia por Miguel"
    – Javi
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 7:50

As a native speaker, you could say Miguel dio un anillo a su novia, but it sounds weird or strange. If you think deeply the meaning of Miguel le dio un anillo, I would ask to whom? and you would say a su novia. Even if le = a su novia, a su novia is clarifying le, that is, who is this 'le'? This sentence can sound well enough on its own but it does need a context if you are omitting a su novia.

  • cheers ! You are from Spain aren't you? Maybe it is considered less weird in other regions. Latin Americans are welcome to feedback.
    – Mintou
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 13:38
  • @Mintou: I will add something about that to my answer later (I don't have time to do it right now).
    – Charo
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 14:33
  • @Mintou: Now I have done it.
    – Charo
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 16:36
  • Yes, I'm Spanish
    – Iria
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 17:02

El "le" es redundante y NO es obligatorio escribirlo. "Miguel dio a su novia un anillo" es 100% correcta. Siendo redundante, cuando lo añadimos, es simplemente por costumbre, o para adelantar que la versión de "dio" que vamos a utilizar es una que admite complemento indirecto (y ese complemento indirecto puede haber aparecido anteriormente, y formar parte del contexto, o puede aparecer en la frase en cuestión --causando que el "le" sea redundante--).

En (por ejemplo) "Juan dio un volantazo" (he turned the steering wheel very abruptly), ese "dio" no admite complemento indirecto.


The Action of Giving explained.

It's easy to say that to give something is "dative" when the definition of a dative case is when something is given, but looking at other dative verbs might help.

  • Gustar / to please
  • Regalar / to gift
  • Decir / to say
  • Apoyar / to aid
  • Ayudar / to help
  • Cuidar / to care

Each of those verbs represents something that can be given to someone else.

When you do give something to someone, a personal a needs to be used.

A mi me gustan los burritos

Veronica me regaló un burrito a mi.

Los madres se cuidan a los niños

Les dije a mis amigos que les acuesten.

El maestro le apoyó al alumno.

Emphasis is the key here.

  • It could be helpful for learners if you explain your last sentence. Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 21:45

We just learned this in class. Our teacher explained that for dative case--when someone is being given something--the someone must precede the something in the sentence.

So your sentence works fine without the "le":

Miguel dio a su novia un anillo.

However, if you moved "un anillo" before "a su novia" in that sentence, "le" would be needed to keep the someone before the something:

Miguel le dio un anillo a su novia.

Our teacher said this was a grammar rule. Unfortunately she didn't explain the etymology, which I'd love to hear if someone can explain.

  • Please comment as to what might be improved about this answer. We're all here to learn.
    – liquidki
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 3:25

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