Why are Spanish direct object pronouns different from other pronouns? And how can you keep from mixing up all the different Spanish pronouns? Let’s use a memory palace to keep all of our Spanish pronouns straight. We’ll work on the Spanish pronouns for “him”, “her”, “me”, and “you”, and then we’ll put it all into practice with real sentences.
Today we’re going to build a little Spanish memory palace.
Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.
Yesterday we started learning direct object pronouns. Today we’re going to learn two more of them. But first, if you’re as nerdy about grammar as I am, there’s a question you might have after yesterday: What do we do with this sentence structure? “She ate that”, or “she ate eso.”
The word eso here is interchangeable with “him”; you could say “she ate him”. So that makes it a direct object, right? So it should go before the verb “ate”?
But the thing is, a direct object only goes before the verb if it’s a specific type of pronoun, called a direct object pronoun. For example, check out this sentence:
• She ate food.
In this case, the noun “food” would remain after the verb. You only have to put the direct object before the verb if it’s one of these little picky pronouns, the type in the subcategory of direct object pronouns: Words like “him”, or “her”, or “it”, or even “them” (she ate them), “you” (she ate you), and “me” (she ate me).
This is a category of pronouns that you should learn how to identify because of how important this rule is. Let’s go ahead and practice it now. I’ll present some sentence examples, and you should see if you can identify whether we’re using a direct object pronoun, such as “him”, “her”, or “them”, or if it should instead stay after the verb.
• We ate the bread.
So, our noun here, “the bread” IS a direct object, but since it’s not a direct object pronoun, it doesn’t move before “ate”. So this sentence remains structured how it is.
• They found me.
This one IS a direct object pronoun. So this would be structured as “they me found”, with “me” right before the verb.
• They found the book.
Here “the book” is not a direct object pronoun, so it doesn’t move before the verb; this sentence remains structured how it is.
• We found you.
Here the word “you” is a direct object pronoun, so it moves before the verb. So the Spanish version would be structured as “We you found.”
• We found that.
This one stays how it is, because the word “that” isn’t a direct object pronoun. So it’s just “we found eso.”
Now this last example, again, might be confusing, because we’ve learned that the word eso IS a pronoun, and in this sentence it’s being used as a direct object, interchangeable with the word “him”. But the thing is that the word eso isn’t categorized with those words that move before the verb, words like la, lo, him, her, you, me, us.
To solve this confusion, one thing that some Spanish students try to do is to memorize a list of all the direct object pronouns. But in our experience working with coaching students, memorizing lists isn’t very effective, because a list of words that you recite one at a time doesn’t really transfer very well to speaking in real time. When you’re having a conversation in Spanish, if you have to pause and think through a whole list of words every time you need a direct object, you’re going to have to stop and think so often that you can’t really communicate effectively at all.
So to make sure that you can use direct objects effectively, we’re going to take what we’ve found to be a more natural approach. The goal is to think about direct object pronouns the way native speakers do: These pronouns, like “me”, “you”, “him, or “her”, just *feel* different from other pronouns such as “this” or “that”. The sentence contexts in which you’d use these words are just different, in an abstract and intangible way, but a way that makes sense once it’s second nature.
Let’s go ahead and use a hack to make this second nature more quickly: Specifically the hack of building a little memory palace.
A memory palace is a useful mental device, basically a trick for keeping things organized. Our goal is to help you think of words in their proper categories so that you can find the right word at the right time without having to think through a whole list. On this podcast, we won’t be using memory palaces for all of our words, but we will be building a few memory palaces for some of the rougher elements of the language, especially in tough grammatical cases like verb conjugations and pronoun categories.
As you’ll see soon, there are LOTS of different types of pronouns that you can use in Spanish, from direct objects to indirect objects, reflexive objects, demonstratives, interrogatives, possessives, and more. And it’s impossible to use them accurately without keeping them clearly separate from each other. But fortunately, you’ll always know which type of pronoun you’re dealing with and how to use it accurately if you use a mental filing cabinet, which is what a memory palace is.
For direct object pronouns, we have a special place, an imaginary scene, where these special words live. We call this the “hymn scene”, and you can see the picture of it at LCSPodcast.com/8, but I’ll describe it for you in this episode.
Try to picture this as vividly as you can. Imagine that you’re walking down a very straight, narrow path in a peaceful field in the country, and this path goes straight over a small hill. You hear singing. Some people are singing traditional hymns. You walk up to an interesting scene: On the left side, just off the path to your left, a girl is singing “Laaaaaa…”… On the right side is a tree stump that looks like it was once an enormous tree, but it’s been cut down, so low and so close to the ground that you could easily walk over it, like a huge wooden floor. This low-cut stump has some musical notes written into it, and it seems to be what the singing girl is reading from.
These represent the words la and lo: la for the singing, and lo for the very low-cut tree with hymns on it. Note that la is on the left side and lo is on the right side. Both of these words are interchangeable with the word “him”, which is why we’re using a mnemonic of singing hymns. But la is used for feminine things and lo is used for masculine things.
Now, in our story, you don’t feel like stopping and reading from the low tree stump to sing hymns right now, so you try to continue on your way by walking between la and lo. But then you’re stopped in your tracks because a strange person with a beard has appeared on the path in front of you. He offers you tea, saying “would you like some tea? It’s nice and warm!” But you’re not interested; it doesn’t seem like the best tea in the world. So to express that you’re not interested, you shrug and say “meh”. The person holding the tea in front of you represents the word te, and then the word for you yourself in this scene is me, spelled M-E.
The reason that this scene is so important to remember is that you’re not only going to use it to remember all the direct object pronouns that we learn in Spanish. You’re also going to use the structure of this scene to start categorizing words based on grammatical meanings. La is on the left because we’re going to learn all of our feminine pronouns on the left throughout this podcast. Lo is on the right, and we’ll continue learning masculine pronouns on the right. The one in front of you is te, which sounds kind of like “tea” but pronounced by this weird person with a beard. And the one that represents “me” is me.
All four of these words are interchangeable with “him”. In English, any time you say “him”, you could easily change who you’re talking about by instead saying “her”, “you”, or “me”. They all behave exactly the same way. And in Spanish, all these words have to go right before the verb.
Let’s practice this right away with some sentence examples.
First, how would you say “They found him”? Mentally travel in this scene to the word that’s on the right side, lo. So the sentence is “they lo found.”
Ellos lo encontraron.
Next, “they found her”. Since it’s “her”, it’s going to be on the left side, where we have la. So this is “they la found.”
Ellos la encontraron.
Next, how would you say “they found you”? The strange person right in front of you holding the tea represents the word “you”, so we have te. They te found.
Ellos te encontraron.
And then how about “they found me”? That’s “They me found.”
Ellos me encontraron.
Now you probably think that you can remember these words by themselves; maybe it seems like extra work to remember this scene and the silly story of running into a weird guy with a beard offering you tea. But there’s a reason that this scene has helped tens of thousands of students transform their ability to finally use Spanish pronouns correctly. Throughout this course, we’ll supply quite a few memory palace images like this one, and in all of our pronoun palaces, we learn feminine things on the left, masculine things on the right, second-person things like the word “you” at the top (or in front and facing you), and first-person things like “I” and “me” at the bottom. With a little practice, it’ll become completely intuitive to grab the right word from your memory palace based on where it is in the scene. And in particular, as we load up on more and more pronouns in the coming episodes, it’s going to be a game changer to be able to keep all the different categories of pronouns straight by having them stored in vividly different scenes that you can quickly access in your memory.
So to lay the foundation for all of that, I strongly recommend trying to visualize this, and quizzing yourself to try to remember where everything is happening in this scene, and which Spanish word belongs in each of the four spots in the picture. It will probably help to see this drawn out for you, so we’ve provided a drawing at LCSPodcast.com/8.
Also, remember — this is some of the stuff that most students have a lot of trouble with. But the nice thing is that if you can use la and lo correctly, like you learned yesterday, then you can also use te and me correctly. There’s no new grammar to learn for these words.
Let’s go back to the issue of: When do you use one of these words and put it before the verb, versus, when would you just put the direct object AFTER the verb like we always do in English?
In English, we say
• They found food,
and we say
• They found him.
In Spanish, you say
• They found food,
but you say
• They him found.
It changes based on whether or not you’re using one of these direct object pronouns. And in general, if you’re using a direct object pronoun, it’s usually going to be one of these four words: lo, la, te, or me. So for example, eso does NOT go right before a verb when you use it as a direct object, because it’s not in the hymn scene. It’s in a different scene that we’ll visit in an upcoming episode.
Now, while we’re on the topic of masculine and feminine, let’s recall how you say “the” in Spanish. We’ve learned two words for this: la for feminine nouns and el for masculine nouns.
Today we’re going to learn two new articles as well, the words un and una. We won’t make you learn a memory palace for these words, because we’ve found that unlike pronouns, articles tend to give students a pretty easy time. However, if you DO like the memory palace approach, we do have a bonus memory palace with all of our articles available as an optional lesson at LCSPodcast.com/8.
For now let’s just talk about what articles are. These are words like “the”, “a”, or “an”. Articles are pretty much always used right before nouns. Of course, you already intuitively know this in English; you can’t use the word “the” or “a” by itself. It’s always followed by a noun. For example, “a sheep”, “the kids”, “a good time”, or “the dog”. All of these phrases that I just said are interchangeable with food. We can say:
• They have food.
• They have a sheep.
• They have the kids.
• They have a good time.
• They have the dog.
The tiny word at the beginning of these nouns is called an article. An article is really just a part of a noun phrase, a part that’s so tiny that it almost doesn’t seem worth talking about. But the thing is, these words happen all the time, AND there are more articles in Spanish than there are in English.
So for example, when you see the word “the” in English, in Spanish there are actually several words that it could be. So far we’ve learned la and el, which are used for singular nouns, and you’ll choose one or the other depending on whether the noun it goes with is masculine or feminine in Spanish grammatical gender.
That’s true of “a” as well. It’s going to be one of two words based on whether it’s masculine or feminine. The masculine version is un, and the feminine version is una.
At the end of this episode, we’re going to do a big quiz to practice both our articles and all four of our direct objects. But for now, let’s do a little quiz to practice just our articles.
How would you say “the girl”? That would be la girl.
How about “a guy”? That would be un guy.
How about “the boy”? That’s el boy.
How would you say “the woman has a daughter”? That’s la woman has una daughter.
La mujer tiene una hija.
Now let’s get a quick refresher on our direct objects, and then we’ll do our final quiz. So mentally travel back to that hymn scene.
How do you say “you” as a direct object? That’s te.
What about “her”? That’s la.
How would you say “We found him”? That’s “We lo found.”
Nosotros lo encontramos.
How about “You know me”? “You me know.”
Tú me conoces.
Now let’s put it all together, along with everything we’ve learned previously on this podcast. For this quiz, when you hear an article such as “the” or “a” before a person where the gender is clear, you should try to translate it, but if the article is before any other kind of noun, you can leave that word in English.
The girl found me.
La girl me found.
La chica me encontró.
It was a girl from Argentina.
It was una girl de Argentina.
Era una chica de Argentina.
We know he saw you.
We know que he te saw.
Sabemos que él te vio.
They said that it wasn’t a plastic dish.
They said que it no was a dish de plastic.
Ellas dijeron que no era un plato de plástico.
A girl and her dog found you.
Una girl y her dog te found.
Una chica y su perro te encontraron.
A man said he knows me.
Un man said que he me knows.
Un hombre dijo que me conoce.
He said that he moved from Peru to California.
He said que he moved de Peru a California.
Dijo que se mudó de Perú a California.
John’s father found her.
El father de John la found.
El padre de John la encontró.
A man did that and I found him.
Un man did eso y I lo found.
Un hombre hizo eso y yo lo encontré.
To get more practice drilling these sentences, go to LCSPodcast.com/8. There you can also find drawings of the memory palaces we recommend using to learn Spanish direct object pronouns and articles.
Tomorrow we’ll work on the perplexing prepositions por and para.
This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Ximena Lama-Rondón. 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.