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My understanding of indirect objects is that convey the "to whom" or "for whom" of an action. In English, the indirect object can be used with a preposition (She gave a gift to me), or without (She gave me a gift). In Spanish, when is it proper to use the indirect object (Ella se lo dijo), and when it is proper to use a preposition (Ella lo compró para él), or when is both or either acceptable? ¡Gracias!

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There are basically three (and a half) different combinations you can use:

  1. Explicit indirect object (uses a): Di algo a María
    This is used when the indirect object has yet to be introduced, or it would not be clear from context.
  2. Explicit indirect object (uses a) plus pronoun: Le di algo a María
    Identical in meaning to the first. Used when you haven't introduced who you're giving it to yet. Particularly emphatic when it comes in front of the verb, but otherwise it's basically fully interchangeable with the (1) with no real difference in interpretation. If the explicit object is a pronoun (a mí/ti/él…) in which case you must use both.
  3. Indirect object pronoun: Le di algo
    Used when context makes it clear who it is. This will be the default if the indirect object is first or second person (me/te/nos/os), as the lack of ambiguity makes the redundancy automatically emphatic.
  4. Explicit pseudo-indirect object (uses para): Di algo para María
    I label this as pseudo because in Spanish grammar, complements introduced with para, though they often fulfill a similar or even identical function as those with a, are not considered to be true indirect objects mainly because they are incompatible with the redundant pronoun used, and they allow for some things that the true object doesn't (for example, nos hice algo and hice algo a nosotros are considered improper, but hice algo para nosotros is fine). Furthermore, it can coappear with the a (compré algo a María para sus padres), and in such a case only the a complement can be converted to an indirect object pronoun (les compré algo a María doesn't work, but le compré algo para sus padres does).
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  • When studying Portuguese I found that the pseudo-IO with para was extremely frequent in places where Spanish would mostly use the regular IO with a. That's Brazilian Portuguese; is it true also of European Portuguese? I have to say that Di algo para María sounds absolutely wrong to me unless you're speaking of "donating for a cause related to María". – pablodf76 Feb 2 '19 at 13:57
  • pablodf76: BP definitely uses para more often than EP. EP uses IO pronouns far more (dime tu nombre -> BP diga seu nome para mi, EP diz-me o teu nome), which allows for clarification or emphasis through duplication which must be done with a. BP without that technique could more freely choose between a and para without there being a grammatical anchor. – user0721090601 Feb 2 '19 at 17:06
  • You're also right that Di algo para María sounds weird. I (a) was probably thinking about what I hear in BP when writing the answer and therefore (b) didn't necessarily choose the best example sentence. The trick is, of course, that there are a lot of times where a and para are semantically perfectly interchangeable (and those often tend to line up with where English would use for), but there are probably an equally large number of verbs for which it doesn't work. It'd be interesting to see what the restrictions may be on using that. – user0721090601 Feb 2 '19 at 17:09
  • pablodf76 Also (total comment abuse/overload): ciberduvidas.iscte-iul.pt/consultorio/perguntas/… – user0721090601 Feb 2 '19 at 17:09
  • I once noted that datives of interest can often be spotted because one can turn the IO into a complement with para or por. – pablodf76 Feb 2 '19 at 20:27

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