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When to Use “le” in Spanish — Grammar Guide

When to Use “le” in Spanish — Grammar Guide

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Spanish has a lot of quirks that make it difficult for native English speakers. One of these quirks is choosing le or lo in a sentence. 

When choosing ‘le’ or ‘lo’ we can feel confused because of how similar they sound.

The difference between these two comes down to simple grammar. 

Let’s outline common situations when you need to use ‘le’ in Spanish. 


What is “le” in Spanish?

‘Le’ is an indirect object pronoun in Spanish. The indirect object pronoun tells us who or what received an action. We use it when multiple objects are in a sentence. It can be masculine and feminine. You don’t always need ‘le.’ Other times it is obligatory and cannot be ignored, the sentence decides.



What are the rules for “le” in Spanish?

You need to follow a few rules when using ‘le’ in Spanish. 

When a referent appears before the verb, you must always include the indirect object pronoun ‘le.’ A referent is who or what the sentence is telling us received the action. 

If the referent appears after a verb, you do not need to use ‘le.’ Still, many Spanish speakers will use this. 


How can you use ‘le’ in a Spanish sentence?

Usually, the indirect object pronoun ‘le’ tells us about people. 

It can have the preposition “a” (to) or “para” (for).

It is not uncommon to see ‘le’ after a referent and before a verb in Spanish. Here is how you can use it with referents before the verb.


A mi amiga le escribo un correo electrónico.

I write an email to my friend. 

Here you can see the preposition ‘a’, which tells us the referent in the sentence. ‘Mi amiga’ is the referent before the verb ‘escribo.’

Since the referent is before the verb, you must say ‘le’ after it. If you do not use it, your sentence is wrong because the referent is before the verb. 

In this sentence, my friend is the indirect object because she receives the letter. The letter is the direct object because I am writing it. 

‘Le’ tells me about the person receiving the letter, not the letter itself. 


When to use ‘le’ if there is a direct and indirect object?

When there is a direct and indirect object in a sentence, you can use lo/la for the thing and ‘le’ for the person. 

The indirect object pronoun ‘le’ should come first. 

Let’s see an example and explanation. 


Le arreglé la bicicleta roja

I fixed his/her red bike. 

‘Le’ is telling us about the person. In this case, we do not know if it is a boy or a girl. 

We must include ‘le’ before the noun because it tells us who we fixed the bike for. The bike is the direct object because I fixed it, so we use la.

Le’ is the indirect object because it tells me who I fixed the bike for. In this sentence, ‘le’ tells us about a person. 


When using le to refer to a direct object there are two possible situations 

The first is using a verb and the personal ‘a.’ Personal ‘a’ comes before a person in a Spanish sentence that is a direct object. 

You can find the direct object by asking “who do you” and if your answer is a person, they are the direct object. It’s also easy to find this because the person ‘a’ will come before the name. 

Do not use the personal ‘a’ with animals or objects, only people. 


Le besé a Juan.

I kissed Juan. 

Here you can see ‘le’ and ‘a Juan.’ Juan is the direct object in this sentence and you know because you personal ‘a’ comes before Juan. 

Juan is a person so you use ‘le’ in front of the verb and the personal ‘a.’ You can ask, “who do you kiss?” and because the answer is Juan he is the direct object.

The personal ‘a’ literally means ‘to Juan’ but we do not need to say ‘to’ in English because it’s incorrect to put a preposition between a verb and subject.

In Spanish, you must include the personal ‘a’ when the direct object is a person or the sentence is wrong. 

Here’s another example. 

A ella le llamo. 

I call him/her. 

Here ‘le’ tells us about the direct object because ‘a ella’ has the personal a. It tells us the person or object that received the action and means ‘to/for.’ 

Again you can ask, “who did you call?” and reply with ‘ella’ or her. So, we know she is the direct object. 

In English we remove this because it’s incorrect to says “I call to her.” In Spanish you must include this or the sentence is incorrect. 

You can use la for a woman instead of ‘le’ if you want. According to the RAE (Real Academia Española), you should use la. 

But when people speak this rule is often ignored and you will hear “le llamo.” It is descriptive grammar, not prescriptive

The next situation is when a verb allows an object or person but not both. In both instances, we will refer to a direct object.

When we have a transitive verb like this we remove ‘le’ because it is not needed. A transitive verb is one that requires an object that is a person or a thing. 

Some verbs like ‘dar’ (give) require an object so it is a transitive verb. We cannot give someone nothing, we must give them something. 

Here’s an example and an explanation. 


Perdono a mi amigo. 

I forgive my friend. 

Here my friend is the direct object. We must remove ‘le’ because there is no indirect object.

There is only the direct object, my friend. We know he is the direct object because we are forgiving him. 

We cannot say the following sentence. 


Le perdono a mi amigo. 

When we say ‘le’ here it is incorrect because he is not an indirect object of the verb.  


When can you exclude ‘le’ in a sentence?

When a referent appears after a verb, then ‘le’ is optional. Many Spanish speakers will still include ‘le’ when speaking. 


Let’s see an example sentence using and excluding ‘le’ for reference. 


El perro mordió al niño.

The dog bit the boy.

Here the referent (el niño) comes after the verb (morder). We can use “le,” but it is optional. 

It does not change the meaning of the sentence if we remove this. Let’s see how the sentence will look with “le.”


El perro le mordió al niño.

The dog bit the boy. 

Here we included the optional le. Since the referent (el niño) comes after the verb we do not need to include this. 

In this sentence, ‘le’ still tells me about the indirect object that received the action. It means that the dog bit the boy. 

The boy received the action, not the dog. 



If you want to understand when to use le in a sentence you need to understand grammar.

It depends on the sentence and its structure. 

If you are referring to an indirect object you need to use ‘le’ in Spanish.

If you are referring to a direct object use lo/la/los/las according to the noun you are talking about. 


Frequently asked questions about “le” in Spanish


Is ‘le’ always needed?

No, sometimes you can leave it out. If a referent comes after a verb you can remove le. 


Does le always refer to an indirect object?

No. Sometimes it can refer to a direct object but only when a noun is transitive. It is not correct when writing but is often done when speaking.