Direct objects identify the being, thing or concept that is directly affected by the verb, rather than merely gaining or losing something in the manner of an indirect object. Common types of meanings that generally require using a direct object include:
- direct physical actions (with a few exceptions, such as le pega = s/he beats/hits him/her, compared to lo/la pega = s/he glues/sticks/attaches it/him/her)
- verbs of perception: 'seeing', 'hearing', 'knowing', and so on
- expressions of attitude toward a person or thing: praise, blame, admiration, love, hatred, and so on.
- naming, nominating, describing
- many other types of actions that are done to a person or thing in manners other that the meanings typically expressed as 'indirect' objects.
Direct objects may occur either before or after their verbs. When they occur before their verbs a direct object pronoun is required as well; for example, ese libro (se) lo di a mi hermano = I gave that book to my brother. However, when direct objects occur after their verbs, usually it is not necessary to also have a direct object pronoun; for example, (le) di ese libro a mi hermano = I gave that book to my brother.
Spanish often requires marking direct objects by introducing them with the preposition a. This specific use of the preposition a is often called personal a in Spanish grammars and textbooks because it is most commonly required when the direct object is both human/animate AND definite, and is generally not permitted when the direct object is either not human/animate or else is not definite.
Some verbs generally use le with some or all meanings when English speakers expect a direct object pronoun; however, Spanish speakers analyze these cases as requiring an 'indirect' object pronoun. These verbs include:
- creer = 'to believe', when the object is human; the words/statements are the direct object
- discutir = 'to argue'/'to discuss' in the sense 'to answer back'
- enseñar = 'to teach'/'to show': lo/la refers only to the thing that is presented or the subject matter that is taught, while le refers to the person to whom the thing is shown or to whom the subject matter is taught.
- entender = 'to understand'
- gustar/agradar/complacer/placer and all verbs of similar or opposite meaning
- importer = 'to matter', concernir = 'to matter', and all verbs of similar meaning
- interesar = 'to interest'
- llamar = 'to call', some speakers prefer le when meaning 'to give someone/something a name'. Lo/la is generally used with the meaning 'phone/call', although telefonear takes le/les.
- obedecer = 'to obey'
- pegar '= 'to beat'; when used with a direct object pronoun, the verb is usually assumed to mean 'to stick/glue it'.
- preocupar, inquietar = 'to worry'
- recordar = when it means 'to remind': lo/la recuerdo = I remember him/her/it/you, but recuerdale que trabaja mañana = remind him/her that s/he's working tomorrow
- tirar = 'to pull'; the meaning 'to throw'/'to throw away' requires lo/la.
- tocar = 'to be one's turn'; the meaning 'to touch' requires lo/la.