Personal a

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The personal a is a Spanish preposition that is used before a noun that is a direct object that directly refers to a person or is personified.

When to use

Nouns referring to people

Use the personal a before a noun that is a direct object when it is a person or a group of people.

Conocemos a Juan.— We know Juan.
Conozco a un abogado, el licenciado Morelos.— I know an attorney, Mr. Morelos.
Llámale a tu hermana.— Call your sister.
El se lo dijo a su papá.— He told his dad.

Pronouns alguien and nadie

Use the personal a before the pronouns alguien and nadie. These pronouns, which mean someone and no one, or nobody respectively, must be preceded by the personal A when they are the direct object of a sentence and refer to specific people.

No vimos a nadie.— We didn't see anyone.
Estoy buscando a alguien que me ayude.— I'm looking for someone to (who can) help me.

Personified nouns

Use the personal a with non-personal direct objects to personify or humanize them. Some native Spanish speakers use the personal a when talking about cities, pets and a few other items, when they want to personify or make them more "human".

Mira a mi perrito.— Look at my little doggie.
Amo a Buenos Aires.— I love Buenos Aires.

Country names

Use the personal a before country names that are direct objects of a verb.

En febrero viajaré a España.— I will travel to Spain in February.
Quiero mucho a Venezuela.— I love Venezuela.

Do not use the personal a if the country name is already preceded by an article.

Me gusta mucho la Argentina.— I really like Argentina.

Exceptions

Indefinite nouns

If the noun (direct object) refers to a person, but is an indefinite noun, the personal a is not used. When there is no definite person involved, do not use the personal a.

¿Dónde puedo encontrar un abogado?— Where can I find an attorney?

Verb tener

The personal a is not always used with the verb tener. When the personal a is used with the verb tener, the meaning changes and implies that you have the person in a certain place.

Tengo un hermano.— I have one brother.
Tengo a mi hermano.— I have my brother with me (or in a certain place).
Tengo a mi hijo trabajando en la empresa.— I have my son working at the company.

Caution

Remember that the term "personal a" refers only to using the preposition "a" before the direct object of a verb. Remember not to confuse the "personal a" with other uses of the preposition "a" that often mean "to".