Spanish Pronouns - The Use of Le/les - Direct-object le/les - Theoretical Basis For The Use of Direct-object le/les

Theoretical Basis For The Use of Direct-object le/les

There are various diachronic and synchronic reasons for the use of le/les for direct objects. To understand why there is vacillation and hesitation in usage, it is helpful to understand these often-conflicting linguistic forces.

a) Masculine e

There is a strong tendency in Spanish, inherited from Latin, for pronouns and determiners to have a set of three different endings for the three genders. These are: -e or ∅ for masculine pronouns, -a for feminine pronouns and -o for neuter pronouns.

Thus, éste, ésta, esto; ése, ésa, eso; aquél, aquélla, aquello; el, la, lo; él, ella, ello.

In this context, it would make sense to say le vi "I saw him" for any masculine noun, la vi "I saw her/it" for any feminine noun, and lo vi "I saw it" when no noun is being referred to. The use of "le" as the direct object pronoun is only used in Spain and it can only mean "him" Le vi. Use "lo" for things. ¿Tienes tu libro? Sí, lo tengo. This gives us a set like the above: le, la, lo.

b) Indirectness for humans — general

Spanish has a tendency, discussed at Spanish prepositions, to treat as indirect objects those direct objects which happen to refer to people. In this context, it would make sense to say le/les vi "I saw him/her/them" when referring to people and lo/la/los/las vi "I saw it/them" when referring to things.

b1) Indirectness for humans — respect for the interlocutor

The general tendency to use indirect objects for people is intensified when the speaker wishes to convey respect. The third person in Spanish can be used as the second person to mean "you". In this context, it would make sense to use lo/la/los/las vi "I saw him/her/it/them" when one is speaking about a third party or an object, but le/les vi "I saw you" when the pronoun is intended to represent usted/ustedes.

b2) Indirectness for humans — contrast with inanimate things

The general tendency to use indirect objects for people is intensified when the subject of the sentence is not human, thus creating a contrast in the mind of the speaker between the human and the thing. In this context, it would make sense to say la halagó "he flattered her" when the subject is "he" referring to a person, but le halagó "it flattered her" when the subject is "it", a thing.

b3) Indirectness for humans — humanity otherwise emphasised

The general tendency to use indirect objects for people is intensified when the humanity of the person who is the object of the sentence is emphasised by the way the verb is used. In this context, it would make sense for a subtle distinction to be made between lo llevamos al hospital "we took/carried him to the hospital" when the patient is unconscious and le llevamos al hospital "we took/led him to the hospital" when the patient is able to walk.

b4) Indirectness for humans — with impersonal se

The general tendency to use indirect objects for people is intensified when impersonal se is used instead of a real subject. This is to avoid the misinterpretation of the se as being an indirect object pronoun. In this context, it would make sense to say se le lee mucho "people read him/her a lot" if "se" means "people" and "le" means "him/her", and reserve se lo/la lee mucho "he/she reads it a lot for him/her" for sentences in which the "se" is not impersonal.

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