Why does Spanish use the phrases “se lo” and “se la” so often? And when does le turn into se? Let’s explore some advanced uses of Spanish indirect objects. We’ll also get lots of practice using the “redundant a” and putting our object pronouns in the right order in Spanish sentences.
Se lo, se la…
Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.
In this episode, we'll go over some uses of Spanish pronouns that are nuanced, but very important to master. Tiny words like lo, le, and se are very tricky, but there's no way around the fact that we need them in order to express ourselves clearly and accurately in Spanish. Plus, they're so tiny and spoken so quickly that understanding them when native speakers talk takes a lot of practice.
So it's time to start making them second nature now. To begin with, let's review three of the memory palace scenes that we’ve used for pronouns, one for direct objects, one for indirect objects, and one for reflexive objects. In all three of these scenes, the words that we store are used right before a verb. For example, “I have it” is lo tengo, and that lo is from the direct object scene. To say “I gave her a book”, you say “I le gave a book” and the le there is from the indirect object scene. And then “I seat myself” is “I me seat”, where me comes from the reflexive scene.
Each of these three scenes seems to store very similar items. The words me, te, and nos are in all three scenes, though they mean different things in each scene. But the word lo, stored in the direct object scene, transforms to le in the indirect object scene for the sheep that “lay” down. And then it turns into se at the reflexive scene. And the word la goes through the same changes: le as an indirect object and se as a reflexive object.
As a quick review, see if you can list all of the words in each scene as we go through them, one by one, left to right. Remember to include the plurals when relevant. So we'll start at the direct object scene. Can you list all of these words from memory? Try to say them before I do.
On the left side, we have the words… la for her and las for them.
At the top of the picture we have… te.
At the bottom, we have… me and nos.
And on the right side, we have… lo and los for “him” and “them”.
Now, the next scene where there’s a fork in the road.
On the left side, we have… le and les.
At the top we have… te.
At the bottom we have… me and nos.
And then on the right side we have… le and les.
Now, finally, the reflexive scene.
On the left side, we have… se.
At top, we have… te.
At the bottom, we have… me and nos.
And on the right side we have se.
The word se is unique because it doesn't change when there's more than one person. So to say “she sees herself”, you use “she se sees”. And if it's more than one person, for “they see themselves”, it's also just “they se see”. In other words, se can be either singular or plural, depending on the context.
All right, now for the fun stuff. There are a couple of complicated things that happen with indirect objects that we'll go over today. Bear with me here because this will take both determination and imagination, but if you can get this, you can get anything in Spanish.
So first of all, there's a special trick to using more than one of these pronouns at once. Now, when is that ever an issue? Let's use an English example:
I gave it to you.
So in this sentence we have a direct object, “it”, which I'm giving to a recipient, “you”. “It” comes from the direct object scene, and “to you” here is an indirect object.
Now there's actually another way to say that sentence in English, although it's not quite as common:
I gave you it.
So ponder this sentence for just a second. It's extremely valuable to us because it provides a glimpse into how Spanish is structured. As you can tell in this example, “I gave you it”, the recipient, “you”, comes before the object, “it”. In fact, if we replace the word “you” with other recipients, the structure stays the same. I gave them it, I gave her it, and so on. In each of these cases, there are only two words other than “I gave”, and the recipient always comes before the direct object.
In Spanish, this is extremely important. Whenever you use words from more than one object scene, for example, an indirect object and a direct object, you always go backwards from the way that we learned these words. So you'll choose words moving back from the forked scene toward the scene with the hill and the hymns.
So going back to our sentence, “I gave you it”, here’s how you would structure it in Spanish: “I you it gave”, or:
Yo te lo gave.
Yo te lo di.
So here the word te is an indirect object from the crossroad scene, and lo is from the direct object scene. We went backward on our path, moving toward the hill instead of toward the stream.
Here are some more sentences that use the same structure.
“They gave me it” would be “They me lo gave.”
“You gave us her” would be “You nos la gave.”
Let’s practice this with a mini-quiz, and we’ll focus on verbs that use direct and indirect objects, such as giving or telling. It’s worth mentioning that a common Spanish word for “stories” is feminine, so there are a lot of feminine direct object pronouns; for example, “he told me it”, if “it” is a story, is “he me la told”.
Also, as you quiz on these sentences here, don’t worry about the other words in the sentence; focus exclusively on the direct and indirect object pronouns. Sometimes there will be only one, but if there are two, remember to put the indirect object pronoun right before the direct object pronoun.
She is telling me it(f).
She me la is telling.
Ella me la está contando.
They gave it(f) to us.
They nos la gave.
Ellos nos la dieron.
I will give them something.
I les will give something.
Yo les daré algo.
They told it(m) to us.
They nos lo told.
Ellas nos lo dijeron.
I’m telling you them(f).
Te las I’m telling.
Te las cuento.
Are you giving me them(m)?
¿Me los are you giving?
¿Me los das?
I’m asking her a question.
Le I’m asking a question.
Le estoy haciendo una pregunta.
He gave it(f) to you.
Te la he gave.
Te la dio.
It's about to get a little bit worse. So let's imagine that you want to say, “I gave her it”, where “it” is masculine. By default, this sentence should be “I her it gave”, or “I le lo gave.” This fits the pattern of moving backwards from indirect to direct. Le lo. However, there’s a problem. For some reason, the Spanish language really doesn't like the sound of that sentence. The words le lo together create a bit of a tongue twister, with the L repeated. As a mnemonic, you might imagine that you’re in the countryside, and the local people singing hymns don’t like it when you take the words le or les back to the hill; they prefer to have the singing there all to themselves.
So the bottom line is that anytime you would say le lo or le la or anything like that, you should mispronounce it, and change the word le to se instead. So for example, “I gave her it” is “I se lo gave.”
Yo se lo di.
And “I gave him her” is “I se la gave.”
Yo se la di.
This is super confusing, but here's how this works. The word here that looks and sounds like se is actually the word le! It just looks and sounds like se because of this strange pronunciation thing.
It might help to think about it this way: The sheep that lay down, le, is also sometimes called se. But that only happens when you're moving backwards and using words that start with L in the next scene.
Obviously this is going to take some practice, so let's quiz with a few sentence examples. In each case, imagine yourself moving backwards from the crossroad scene to the direct object scene. But every time you would create the sound le lo, le la, les lo, les la, or any other combination of two L words, you’ll change the indirect object to se.
OK first example:
I told him it(m).
I se lo told.
Yo se lo dije.
She told it(f) to us.
She nos la told.
Ella nos la contó.
I did it(m) to them.
I se lo did.
Yo se lo hice.
Will you tell it(f) to her?
¿Se la will you tell?
¿Se la contarás?
I would give it(m) to you.
Te lo I would give.
Te lo daría.
They will give it(f) to me.
They me la will give.
Ellas me la darán.
They gave it(m) to him.
They se lo gave.
Ellos se lo dieron.
Let's talk about one more strange thing that often happens when you use indirect objects in Spanish. Consider this sentence:
He asked her if she had something.
Él le asked si tenía algo.
The person being asked is “her” represented by the word le, a word that’s sometimes translated as “to her”. So she’s the recipient of the question, and the question here is “if she had something”, or si tenía algo.
Él le preguntó si tenía algo.
Now, what if we wanted to clarify who that person is? For example:
He asked his mother if she had something.
In this new sentence, his mother is the indirect object in the sentence. Now on the surface, it seems like we should phrase the sentence like this:
He asked to his mother if she had something.
He asked a su mother si tenía algo.
And the reason we do this is because we've replaced the indirect object pronoun with a noun. Since a su mother is in there as a noun, we don't need the pronoun le anymore. Right?
Well, that is how it works in English, but for some reason that's not actually how Spanish works. There's something really bizarre that happens, and I'll start by just showing you how this sentence would be. In proper Spanish, this is:
He le asked a su mother si tenía algo.
So wait a minute, what's the point of that le at the beginning? Literally, if you read this out, “he to her asked to his mother if she had something”. And yes, it's redundant! But unfortunately, this is one of the awkward rules in Spanish: If an indirect object is involved in a sentence, at all, we pretty much ALWAYS have to put the indirect pronoun before the verb… even if the object is also named as a noun afterwards!
And personally, I endearingly call this the “ridiculous redundant indirect object”, R.R.I.O.
So just remember that if a person or a thing is a named indirect object, you're still going to use le or les, even if you're naming the noun in the sentence somewhere else after the preposition a. And typically, the a phrase goes toward the end of the sentence.
As an example, “I gave that to my friend” is le I gave eso a mi amigo, where le is redundant with a mi amigo, even though they’re on opposite ends of the sentence!
Let's practice the “ridiculous redundant indirect object”, and we’ll start with a step-by-step example. Let’s use this sentence:
I’ll tell the girl that.
So we’re going to use “to the girl”, or a la chica, but we also need le before “tell”. So we end up with:
Le I’ll tell eso a la chica.
Le diré eso a la chica.
Try predicting as much as you can for the next few examples.
They(f) gave Sofía many things.
Ellas le gave muchas cosas a Sofía.
Ellas le dieron muchas cosas a Sofía.
We told something to our friends(m).
Nosotros les told algo a nuestros amigos.
Nosotros les dijimos algo a nuestros amigos.
He asked his friend if he had something.
Le he asked a su amigo si tenía algo.
Le preguntó a su amigo si tenía algo.
All right, now how about this tricky one:
We gave it to our friend(f).
This seems like it should be “we le lo gave a nuestra amiga”. But as we just learned, we aren’t allowed to say le lo; instead it’s going to be se lo, even though the se there actually means le. So this is an example where se is being used as the ridiculous redundant indirect object. So we have
Nosotros se lo gave a nuestra amiga.
Nosotros se lo dimos a nuestra amiga.
To wrap up today’s episode, let’s quiz several more examples of the ridiculous redundant indirect object, along with a few examples of Hacer from earlier this week. And then the rest of this week we’ll get more and more practice with this, along with learning some easier, more fun stuff.
I told my friends that I had to leave.
Les I told a mis amigos que tenía que irme.
Les dije a mis amigos que tenía que irme.
I gave them(f) to my friends(f).
Se las I gave a mis amigas.
Se las di a mis amigas.
I told you he gave me it(m).
Te I told que me lo he gave.
Te dije que me lo dio.
He was making it(f) for us.
Nos la hacía.
He is going to make us it(m) that day.
Nos lo va a hacer ese día.
He didn’t give me them(f).
No me las gave.
No me las dio.
I gave it (m) to my friends(m) this afternoon.
Se lo I gave esta tarde a mis amigos.
Se lo di esta tarde a mis amigos.
She is going to make her friend something.
Le va a hacer algo a su amigo.
I already gave them(f) to you.
Ya te las I gave.
Ya te las di.
If you make that, we won’t make it.
Si haces eso, nosotros no lo haremos.
I told you it(m) that day.
Te lo I told ese día.
Te lo dije ese día.
You told the boys that.
Les you told eso a los chicos.
Les dijiste eso a los chicos.
Now you all are becoming good friends.
Ahora ustedes se hacen buenos amigos.
She hopes that I make them(m) for my friend(m).
She hopes que se los haga a mi amigo.
Espera que se los haga a mi amigo.
I showed the man that.
Le I showed eso al hombre.
Le mostré eso al hombre.
She gave it(f) to her son upon leaving.
Se la she gave a su son al irse.
Se la dio a su hijo al irse.
I will make it(f) for you that year.
Te la haré ese año.
Tomorrow we’re going to take it a bit easier and learn some new nouns, including the words for “idea”, “job”, and “trouble”.
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.