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I have heard the following sentence in the Narcos TV series:

Él dijo que le quería dar un mensaje a otros niños.

Context: A Colombian kid which works for Pablo Escobar is being interviewed by a reporter about the murder of a Colombian teenager which also worked for Escobar by colonel Carillo, a warning of what would happen to people who helped Escobar. During the interview, the kid says the sentence above.

What is the purpose of the indirect object pronoun "le" in this sentence? I'd guess it is an ethical dative (even if it is a little odd that the subject and the indirect object are the same ) ?

  • I added the tag Colombia to the question since this is the common colombian way of saying that sentence even if it is grammatically wrong as explained in @gustavson answer. – DGaleano Jan 13 at 19:08
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In the sentence:

Él dijo que le quería dar un mensaje a otros niños.

"le" is wrong and should be plural "les", because it merely duplicates the indirect object "a otros niños", which is plural.

  • Le quería dar un mensaje a otro niño.
  • Les quería dar un mensaje a otros niños.

This mistake of using plural "les" (indirect object) instead of singular "le" is due to the proximity of the singular direct object "un mensaje". In his mind, the native Spanish speaker feels that there should be agreement between those two objects.

Something similar happens when the direct object is singular and the indirect object is plural. When both objects are pronominal, the speaker often mistakenly thinks that the pronominal direct object "lo" or "la" should be plural "los" or "las":

  • Dio un mensaje a los niños -> Se lo dio (a los niños) (correct) / Se los dio (a los niños) (incorrect, because the message is one).

  • Dio una carta a los niños -> Se la dio (a los niños) (correct) / Se las dio (a los niños) (incorrect, because the letter is one).

  • I agree, but I also think it could be (a) a regional dropping of an s (a pronunciation thing) -- which is a little bit unlikely due to the region where the program takes place; (b) the speaker might not have planned out his sentence completely when he started speaking -- after all, the object pronoun is near the beginning of the sentence, and the plural noun (niños) is at the end. What do you think about these ideas? – aparente001 Jan 13 at 18:03
  • @aparente001 I don't think it's a question of not planning the sentence in advance. The sentence sounds right to many speakers even if written. According to this site: espanolplus.com/gramatica/errores-concordancia-objeto-indirecto En español, a menudo, se llega a perder la conciencia de que el pronombre que anticipa el objeto indirecto se refiere a este, por lo que se nos olvida hacerlo concordar en número con él. – Gustavson Jan 13 at 18:37
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    @aparente001 it is not a dropping of the s since in my region we don't do that (that happens in the colombian caribbean) but I have to confess that the sentence sounded fine to me the first time I read it. It looks like it is a very common mistake we make here. Only after reading the answer I realized we use le a lot where les should be used. If I try to say "El dijo que les..." it still sounds weird to me even after knowing it is the right way. Thanks Gustavson for breaking my brain jajaja. – DGaleano Jan 13 at 19:05
  • @Gustavson - I'll have to take your word for it. I make lots of mistakes but I don't always know which ones are personal mistakes and which are absorbed mistakes. – aparente001 Jan 14 at 0:11

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