When is it right to use 'lo', 'la' and 'le' in Spanish?

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These are called object pronouns and they take a little practice.  Though don't worry, object pronouns are basically just words that mean 'it' or 'him or her'. 

The long and short if it is that 'lo' means 'it' for masculine nouns, and is also the word for 'him'.  'La', on the other hand, means 'it' for feminine nouns and is also the word for her.  'Le' is called the indirect object pronoun, and we'll talk more about that later.

Let's take a book.  In Spanish, it's masculine - 'El libro'.  If you want to say that you're reading it, you can simply say 'Lo leo.'  If you're referring to a man, and you want to say that you can see him, you can just say 'Lo veo.'  Put the pronoun just before the verb and you can't go wrong.

Now, 'Le' is trickier.  It refers to what's called indirect objects, which is when you have more than one object in a sentence.  Take the sentence: "I sing him a song.' The song and the man are both objects in the sentence.  The indirect object is the one receiving the action.  And you can always figure out what the indirect object is by putting a 'to' in front of whichever one seems most correct.  So in Spanish, it's "Le canto una canción," or, "I sing a song to him."  That "to" is all important.

Now, here is where it gets a bit confusing.  You can use "Le" as an indirect object pronoun for both genders.  "To him" and "To her" are the same in Spanish.  But "le" can also mean just "him".  So you can say "Le canto una canción" and it's not clear whether you're referring to a man or a woman.  "Le veo" is a sentence that shows you must be talking about a man.  For sentences with only one obect, "Le" and "Lo" can do the same thing.  "La" can only refer to women.

There's one last thing you need to know.  When you have an indirect object - let's take the previous sentence as an example - "Le" often changes to "Se".  You know that "I sing him/her a song" is "Le canto una canción."  But what happens if you want to say "I sing it to him/her"?  Then the "Le" changes to "Se" for phonetic reasons.  "La canto" means "I sing it".  "Se la canto" is "I sing it to him/her."  

This is the trickiest bit to get your head around with object pronouns in Spanish.  Never, ever say "Le lo" together in one sentence.  To a Spaniard, it just sounds wrong.  And to make everything sound that little bit nicer, it always becomes "Se lo."  If you ever see "Le lo/la" in sentence then you know you've made a mistake!

Paul H. IB German tutor, GCSE German tutor, A Level German tutor, IB ...

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