I've read about the "leísmo de cortesía" i.e. the use of "le" and "les" as direct object pronouns when referring to a person or group you are addressing formally.

Most of my learning resources never advocate using "le" or "les" as direct object pronouns. However, some (e.g. Michel Thomas) seem to teach "leísmo de cortesía", at least in the singular (I'm not clear on whether the Michel Thomas courses employ "leísmo de cortesía" in the plural).

My question is: take a speaker of peninsular Spanish who says "puedo verlo" for "I can see him" but "puedo verle" for "I can see you (sir)". Would consistency require that such a speaker use "puedo verles" in preference to "puedo verlos" for "I can see you (plural, formal)"? Or are there speakers who employ "leísmo de cortesía" in the singular but not the plural? Is this viewed as acceptable, or would this seem inconsistent to a native speaker?

  • I was about to comment on @darkgaze answer but this applies to all. At least in Colombia you will never hear us using "-le" neither formal nor informal. Obviously we understand it but you will sound like coming out of a bad soap opera. For both "I can see you (sir)" and "I can see him" we say "Puedo verlo (a usted)(a el)". If talking to a close friend we say "Puedo verte (a ti)". – DGaleano Jul 6 '16 at 13:58

A summarized table from the RAE website shows what to use in each case:

RAE: pronombres personales átonos:

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As you see les is incorrect when it is a reference to people in third person.

You can see some examples on WikiLengua:

A Jorge le vieron en el aeropuerto. [Uso leísta permitido]

A Jorge LO vieron en el aeropuerto. [Uso CORRECTO]

A María le vieron por la calle. [Uso leísta NO permitido]

A María LA vieron por la calle. [Uso CORRECTO]

A Jorge y a María les vieron en la playa. [Uso leísta NO permitido]

A Jorge y a María LOS vieron en la playa. [Uso CORRECTO]

Like I discussed on a previous answer "Leismo" is an accepted exception (I tend not to use it but sometimes I use it), and if you come to Spain a lot of people use it (widely in the center), but 'lo' as well and most of people from South America.

Leismo de cortesia is another accepted exception (another reference from WikiLengua):

También está aceptado el llamado «leísmo de cortesía», esto es, la utilización de le/les en sustitución de lo/la y los/las cuando se refiere a usted/ustedes.

¿Quiere que le lleve hasta el restaurante? [«Leísmo de cortesía»]

¿Quiere que LO/LA lleve hasta el restaurante? [Uso CORRECTO]

But here we come again with an exception...that is why most of the books, resources for non native speakers do not mention the use of 'le', Michael Thomas has decided to put it because if you go to Spain in many areas it is used.

It is mentioned on many books because it is a real fact to be known.

If I were a foreigner I would use only lo.

I end up with a paragraph from Wikipedia:

Direct-object le/les:

Generally, the unstressed third-person object pronouns in Spanish are lo, la, los, las. This is the current position of the Real Academia Española. This is a reasonable generalisation given that it is true in over ninety percent of cases in over ninety of the Spanish-speaking world. However, it is helpful to take note of the various exceptions to this general rule whereby le/les rather than lo, la, los, las are used. Note however that this use is rather modern and often found only in part of Spain whereas the use of lo, la, los, las is considered more traditional.

Update, look at the first comment:

To be honest I tought the third person in plural would be accepted only in case of "leismo de cortesia" but I run into this website www.elcastellano.org

One question says:

P: Uso correcto de la palabra saludándoles.

Answer from linguists:

R: Es adecuado en las zonas leístas cuando se usa como leísmo de cortesía: Me despido de ustedes, saludándoles cordialmente. De lo contrario, debe evitarse el leísmo de tercera persona plural: Pasó la tarde saludando a los presentes > Pasó la tarde saludándolos y no *Pasó la tarde saludándoles.

So it is better to use 'lo'.

  • 1
    Thanks Alex. However, part of my question concerns the acceptability of using using "Leísmo de cortesía" in the plural e.g. "les vieron en el aeropuerto" for "They saw you in the airport" where "les" refers to a group which the speaker is addressing formally. Is this also part of "Leísmo de cortesía", or does "Leísmo de cortesía" only apply in the singular? None of the sources I have encountered really address this point. All of the examples are in the singular. – samfrances Sep 10 '13 at 17:43
  • @samfrances Answer updated, take a look. – AlexBcn Sep 12 '13 at 13:34
  • @AlexBcn ¡Muchas gracias! I wasn't sure if the page you referred to would even be worth taking a look at (sometimes chasing the rabbit down the hole isn't all that worth it), but knowing that it was an RAE page, I should have guessed that it would be and it is. Immensely helpful and thank you for taking the time to provide a better link and so quickly. – Lisa Beck Jul 9 '16 at 16:38

I'm native speaker.

There is a problem here. "Puedo verle" is formal and natural way of speaking, at least in peninsular Spanish (note: I'm from Madrid). "Puedo verlo" is hardly ever used. Here in Spain we don't use it very often, even in very formal situations, in second person or third person.

The same for "puedo verlos", which means EXACTLY the same as "puedo verles", but it is more often used in Spanish from America.

Trust me. Always use LE version for people. Be it formal or informal, second or third person.

  • 1
    Thanks darkgaze. Its a real source of confusion for learners. You hear "le" all the time, but the textbooks insist that "le" is never a direct object. So you'd recommend saying "puede verle" for "I can see him" or "I can see her" as well? – samfrances Sep 10 '13 at 12:18
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    Trust ME. Always use '-le' when in Spain. In other countries, '-lo' is common and '-le' implies special treatment. In Mexico I would use '-le' for this purpose, but '-les' may sound a bit pretentious. – Rodrigo A. Pérez Sep 10 '13 at 15:46
  • When you say "always", am I correct in thinking you mean "whenever you are referring to a human being"? So the best options (in Spain) for direct object pronouns referring to people are me, nos, te, vosotros/as, le/les? – samfrances Sep 10 '13 at 16:29
  • Puedo verle = I can see HIM. Formal or informal. Puedo verla = I can see HER. Formal or informal. Puedo verles = I can see them. Formal or informal. Puedo verles = I can see you ONLY FORMAL. For LA, i have big mistakes, don´t trust me with those :D It´s hard even for us... So i prefer not to say anything. At least in spain. – darkgaze Sep 11 '13 at 7:54
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    Madrid is known for its widely extended leísmo, so I don't think the use of le in Madrid can be generalised to other parts of Spain, let alone the rest of the Spanish speaking world. – Gorpik Sep 16 '13 at 13:54

Yes, it is used in both singular and plural.

I lack explicit references, though. I'll cite the DPD, Leísmo section 4g...

Otro caso de leísmo generalizado en todo el mundo hispánico es el llamado «leísmo de cortesía». Se trata del uso de le(s) en función de complemento directo cuando el referente es un interlocutor al que se trata de usted. [...]

... (note it includes the plural), and then I can only direct you to search specific phrases in Google that show the leísmo de cortesía being used in the plural form (e.g., "les espero").

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