Indirect objects identify the being or thing that gains or loses as a result of the action of the verb, but is not directly affected by the verb in the manner of a direct object. Indirect objects are always introduced by a preposition, which usually is the preposition a.
Some of the typical uses of le/les include:
- receiving or acquiring any thing, impression or sensation
- loss or removal from
- sufficiency, insufficiency, lack, excess
- requesting, requiring, ordering
- many set phrases combining tener plus an emotion (le tiene miedo), although equivalent verbs (temer) may take lo/la
- many set phrases combining hacer and some noun (typically the noun occupies the direct object role)
- to indicate persons or things affect by something done to a part of their body or to some intimate possession
- other cases that may be seen as expressing ideas of 'giving', 'removing', 'benefitting', 'involving', 'affecting intimately'
Indirect objects may either precede or follow their verb, and they may precede or follow the subject of the verb or any other object of the verb. Indirect objects are often accompanied by a matching indirect object pronoun in order to more clearly indicate that they gain or lose by the action of the verb, rather than merely being directly affected by it. "Redundant" pronouns are required when the indirect object precedes the verb; for example, a mi hermano le di ese libro = I gave that book to my brother. They may be either required or optional when the indirect object follows the verb, depending on the verb and the context; for example (le) di ese libro a mi hermano = I gave that book to my brother.
Comparison to indirect objects in English
Indirect objects in English have a more limited range of possible uses compared to indirect objects in Spanish.
- They can identify only the recipient of the direct object or the beneficiary of the action of the verb on the direct object. The other types of uses in Spanish must be expressed by other methods in English.
- Both direct and indirect objects follow their verb. Usually short indirect objects come before direct objects. Indirect objects that follow direct objects are introduced by one of the prepositions to (recipient) or for (beneficiary). Most verbs that allow indirect objects require using one of these prepositions and prohibit using the other preposition. For example:
- John gave me the book or John gave the book to me (John gave the book for me has a different meaning, and implies that someone or something other than me received the book.)
- John bought me the book or John bought the book for me (John bought the book to me is not possible.)