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Algo, nada, todo, and les

Let’s learn a lot more Spanish pronouns, including indirect objects, as well as the words for “something”, “nothing”, and “everything”.

Full Podcast Episode


Let’s learn something, and nothing, and everything.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Today we’re going to learn a few more pronouns, including the words for “something”, “nothing”, and “everything”. But first, we need to talk some more about object pronouns.

To begin with, let’s go back to our direct object pronouns for a second by re-visiting our memory palace for this. Remember that we used the hill in the countryside, with la on the left, lo on the right, te in front of you, and me at the bottom. We’re going to learn one more word here. Today, your friends have accompanied you to this hymn scene, but they can’t sing because they still have oats in their noses. The word for “us” as a direct object is nos.

For example, “they found us” would be “they nos found.”

Ellas nos encontraron.

Now here’s a surprise: Let’s see what happens if we keep walking through this scene, all the way over the hill. Today, the tea guy with a beard doesn’t stop you and your friends. He proceeds forward along the path, and you follow him, down the hill, until you get to a fork in the road. Then he stops and turns around again.

You’re not sure which way to go now. It’s frustrating, because previously the path was very direct, for direct objects. But now, it’s indirect! It’s forked; you don’t know which way to go.

Not only that, but a sheep lay down on the left fork of the path, blocking that route… and then another sheep lay down on the right fork of the path, blocking that route as well. The shepherd stares at you, saying “hey look! give some tea to the sheep that lay down!” Of course, you don’t know which one he’s talking about, and you probably just want to get out of there. But now here you are, with the bearded guy facing you, the sheep that lay down on either side, and you and your friends just standing here.

We’re going to learn a few new words in this scene: le on the left, spelled L-E, le on the right, spelled exactly the same way, te in front of you, and then both me and nos at the bottom of the image.

These words are what we call indirect object pronouns. Instead of la on the left, we now have le on the left. And instead of lo on the right, we now have le on the right. Meanwhile, the words me, te, and nos look exactly the same as they did in the direct object scene.

But… what are these words? Why do we have this whole new scene for indirect objects?

So… when I told you in Episode 8 that direct object pronouns are words that are interchangeable with “him”, that was only partly true.

It IS true in cases like this sentence:

They found him.

Ellas lo found.

When someone does something directly to something or someone else, such as finding them, we can use direct object pronouns. In this sentence, the word lo (meaning “him”) is exchangeable with all the other words in the direct object scene. We can change this sentence to:

Ellas nos found.

Ellas la found.

Ellas te found.

Ellas los found.

And so on.

But what about this sentence?

I gave him a book.

In this case, the word “him” is NOT a direct object and t’s not going to be translated as the word lo. In fact, it doesn’t belong in the hymn scene on the hill at all.

Why is that? Speaking very technically, linguists will tell you that in this context, “I gave him a book”, the direct object in the sentence is technically the book. That’s what I’m performing the action of giving upon. The “him” in this scene is instead the recipient of the action, or the INDIRECT object. And linguists will also tell you that in general, an indirect object is someone who is the recipient of a direct object in a sentence.

But if all of that sounds confusing and complicated, just remember that “him” will NORMALLY turn into lo and bring you to the direct object hymn scene on the hill, unless the word “him” COULD be turned into “to him” or “for him”.

Very generally speaking, if you could turn “him” into “to him” or “for him”, you’ll go to the indirect object scene and use le. That’s also true for “to us”, “to you”, “to her”, and so on. You use indirect objects in all of those cases.

To practice this, try to see if you can predict which one we’re using in a few sentences. In each case, we’ll use the direct object pronoun OR the indirect object pronoun right before the conjugated verb.

First example:

We see him there.

…So, “him” is a direct object here. So we’ll go to the direct object scene and choose lo.

We lo see there.

Nosotros lo vemos ahí.

How about this one:

They love her.

…Once again, this is a direct object; they don’t love “to her” or “for her”. So we’ll use the direct object scene and choose la.

They la love.

Ellas la quieren.

How about this one:

She told her a story.

…So in this case, the word “her” means “to her”. She told a story “to her”. So in this case, we need to go to the indirect object scene, and we need to choose the word le.

She le told a story.

Ella le contó una historia.


You asked him a question.

…So this one is also an indirect object. It’s as if we’re taking the question and giving it “to him”. So this is:

You le asked a question.

Tú le hiciste una pregunta.

How about this one:

We did her a favor.

…In this case, “her” is also an indirect object, because she is the recipient of our favor. So this is:

We le did a favor.

Nosotros le hicimos un favor.

Incidentally, you can also turn le, either feminine or masculine, into les when it’s plural. For example,

We gave them a book.

We les gave a book.

Nosotros les dimos un libro.

Now, it can be pretty confusing that there’s a lot of similarity between our direct objects and our indirect objects. The word me, for example, can be either a direct object or an indirect object. But lo turns into le when it’s an indirect object. So I have a couple of tips for making these words second nature as fast as possible.

First of all, in our experience, it’s really helpful to always be aware of whether you’re using a direct object or an indirect object when you use any of these words, even if it’s a word that doesn’t change between scenes such as te or me. So for example, if you use the word me in a sentence, you should still know whether you’re using the direct object version of me or the indirect object version. That’s because these words are used in different sentence templates, and you want to make sure that if you change the template from “me” to “him” or “her” or “them”, you can confidently use the right word.

As a second tip, I strongly recommend drawing out both of these object pronoun scenes from memory. This can be super helpful for keeping the scenes distinctly separate in your mind, as well as for knowing you can always remember the right word quickly. So whenever you have a moment, make sure to draw those scenes from memory, placing all the words in the right spots, and then make sure to correct anything you get wrong. You can see an example of this assignment being done at LCSPodcast.com/37.

Now let’s get some practice with all of these words. In each case, first see if you can tell whether we’re dealing with a direct object or an indirect object, and go to the appropriate scene in your memory palace. Then choose the right word from that scene.

I want to give them a thing.

Les I want to give una cosa.

Les quiero dar una cosa.

I did him a favor.

Le I did a favor.

Le hice un favor.

They saw us.

Nos they saw.

Nos vieron.

I love her.

Yo la love.

Yo la quiero.

I can do them a favor.

Les I can do a favor.

Les puedo hacer un favor.

You told him a lie.

Tú le told a lie.

Tú le dijiste una mentira.

He gave me that!

¡Él me gave eso!

¡Él me dio eso!

I can give her this thing.

Le I can give esta cosa.

Le puedo dar esta cosa.

I love them(f).

Las I love.

Las quiero.

They gave us a gift.

Ellos nos gave a gift.

Ellos nos dieron un regalo.

We’ll get a bunch more practice with our indirect objects in today’s quiz, and as a teaser, tomorrow we’ll start learning a verb that you can use along with our indirect objects.

For now, let’s learn a few simpler pronouns, specifically the words for “nobody”, “somebody”, “everybody”, “nothing”, “something”, and “everything”.

These words are called indefinite pronouns, and if you like organizing things in diagrams, like I do, here’s something fun to do with them: You can put “nothing” and “nobody” in the left-hand column, you can put “something” and “somebody” in the middle, and you can put “everything” and “everybody” in the right-hand column. In each case, one of these words refers to things and one refers to people.

This is how Spanish organizes indefinite pronouns as well. So let’s use this exact layout to build a little memory palace for learning these words.

So imagine you’re in a dark, swampy area in the countryside, nowhere near the sheep pastures or the paths that we visited earlier. In the middle of the image, there’s some disgusting, slimy algae, and something is emerging from the algae. It’s not clear yet what is emerging, but some creatures on each side seem very excited about it. On the left, there are two ghost-like creatures that are nodding their heads excitedly about it. And on the right, a bunch of toads are hopping up and down, waiting to see what’s about to rise out of the algae.

So first let’s look over at the ghosts on the left side. One of them is a puppeteer who’s nodding her head up and down and shouting “yay! yay! yay!” Her name is nadie, kind of a combination of “nod” and “yay”. It’s spelled n-a-d-i-e. Nadie.

Her puppet is named nada, spelled n-a-d-a. He can’t talk, but he can nod.

The toads on the right side have two names: todos and todo. The todos toads can talk, but the todo toad can’t talk.

Now let’s look at what’s happening in the middle. We still can’t quite tell what’s emerging from the algae, but one of the things is a human and the other thing is a brick or something. The human is clutching fistfuls of Japanese money which is called Yen. The other thing is clearly not human. The non-human thing is algo, spelled a-l-g-o, kind of like “algae”, but the human thing is alguien, which stresses “yen”. It’s spelled a-l-g-u-i-e-n, but the U is silent. Alguien.

So now we’ve filled in the rows and columns in our diagram, using this memory palace. The things on the left represent nobody or nothing, which is why they’re ghosts. The things on the right represent everything or everybody. And the things in the middle mean something or somebody.

And in each case, we have one word that represents a person (or people) and another word that represents a thing (or things). So on the left side, nadie means “nobody”, which is our word for no people. The word nada means “nothing”, which is our word for the absence of a thing.

In the middle, alguien means “somebody”, and algo means “something”.

And on the right side, todos means “everybody”, and todo means “everything”. Both of these words can also mean “all”, as in “all the guys” (todos los chicos) or “all the time” (todo el tiempo).

Before we go any further, let’s make sure that you can recall each of these words based on where it is in the scene. I also recommend drawing out this scene with all six words to make sure you can remember them. But for now, I’ll just quickly quiz you on which words are where, in a random order.

So first of all, in the middle, what’s the word for “somebody”, represented by the person coming out of the algae?


What’s the word for “everything”, represented by one of the toads?


How about the word for “nobody”, on the left side, represented by the ghost puppeteer?


What’s the word for “everybody”?


What’s the word for “nothing”, represented by the puppet?


And in the middle, what’s the word for “something”?


All right, let’s practice using these words in sentences.

We’re with someone here.

Estamos con alguien aquí.

In this next one, note that in Spanish, the word for “everyone” is plural, so you use panda conjugations with it.

Everyone is here.

Todos están aquí.

Something is in your house.

Algo está en tu casa.

She is here with everything.

Ella está aquí con todo.

To practice nadie and nada, we have to talk about a strange thing that happens in Spanish that doesn’t happen in English. Spanish uses double negatives, specifically when the negative pronoun happens after the verb. This can really frustrate English speakers, especially English grammar nerds like me… In English, we say “it’s nobody”. But in Spanish, it’s actually improper to say “es nadie”. Instead, you’ll say no es nadie.

Similarly, to say “it’s nothing”, you can’t say “es nada”; you have to say no es nada.

These literally mean “it’s not nobody” or “it’s not nothing”, but in Spanish, this is understood to mean that it’s nobody or it’s nothing. It doesn’t really make sense for English-speaking logic, but it makes sense in Spanish.

There’s also one more nuance to learn and this has to do with the words on the right. The rest of the words in this scene don’t ever change spelling, but the words todos and todo can change based on what you’re referring to when you say “everyone” or “everything”, or especially when you are using these words to mean “all”.

For example, to say “all the boys”, you’d say todos los chicos. But to say “all the girls”, you’d say todas las chicas.

And to say “all the time”, you’ll say todo el tiempo.

Besides these nuances, using all six of these words is pretty intuitive; they’re generally used the same way that we use the English words “nobody”, “nothing”, “somebody”, “something”, “everybody”, and “everything”.

Let’s practice all of these words, as well as our direct and indirect object pronouns, using today’s final quiz.

He told me something.

Me he told algo.

Me dijo algo.

My house is good, but this one isn’t.

Mi casa es buena, pero esta no lo es.

She saw you and I saw her.

Ella te saw y yo la saw.

Ella te vio y yo la vi.

He gave me his things for a while.

Él me gave sus cosas por un tiempo.

Él me dio sus cosas por un tiempo.

I want everything, but I have nothing.

Quiero todo, pero no I have nada.

Quiero todo, pero no tengo nada.

We have had to give them that thing.

Les hemos had to give esa cosa.

Les hemos tenido que dar esa cosa.

He has told us that one time.

Nos ha told eso una vez.

Nos ha dicho eso una vez.

Nobody knows him.

Nadie lo knows.

Nadie lo conoce.

That girl didn’t give them anything.

Esa chica no les gave nada.

Esa chica no les dio nada.

I told you this.

Te I told esto.

Te dije esto.

Look at this place, you haven’t been here.

Look at este lugar, no has estado aquí.

Mira este lugar, no has estado aquí.

They are from the place where you are, I know them.

Ellos son del lugar where estás, yo los know.

Ellos son del lugar donde estás, yo los conozco.

Nobody wants this house.

Nadie wants esta casa.

Nadie quiere esta casa.

They have told him not to be here that day.

Le han told que no esté aquí ese día.

Le han dicho que no esté aquí ese día.

Everyone told you something.

Todos te told algo.

Todos te dijeron algo.

That place is better than this one.

Ese lugar es better que este.

Ese lugar es mejor que este.

I have been here with everyone.

He estado aquí con todos.

He wants to have had something here.

He wants haber had algo aquí.

Quiere haber tenido algo aquí.

Someone saw us in this place.

Alguien nos saw en este lugar.

Alguien nos vio en este lugar.

I have to take everything to the place.

I have to take todo al lugar.

Tengo que llevar todo al lugar.

Somebody knows us.

Alguien nos knows.

Alguien nos conoce.

They told us that they are here for a day.

Nos they told que están aquí por un día.

Nos dijeron que están aquí por un día.

She will give you what I have given her.

Ella te will give lo que yo le he given.

Ella te dará lo que yo le he dado.

He saw me that afternoon(f).

Él me saw esa afternoon.

Él me vio esa tarde.

To get more practice with all of this, go to LCSPodcast.com/37.

Tomorrow, we’re going to start learning the verb Hacer so that we can put our indirect objects into sentences that are entirely in Spanish.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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