What are object pronouns?
Pronouns are words that stand for nouns, like people, places, and things. The subject of a sentence is the doer of an action, and the verb is the action itself. But there can be a victim, or object of the action. So, in the sentence Eu vejo-te (I see you), eu (I) is the subject represented by a subject pronoun, vejo (see) is the verb, and te (you) is the object. And since te is a pronoun, it’s an object pronoun. See, that wasn’t so scary after all!
Object pronouns replace the people or things that receive the verb’s action (object of the verb). In English, these are words like me, us, them and in Portuguese these are words like me, nos, lhes. They are often connected to the verb by a hyphen, but in some situations that we’ll see further down, they are placed before the verb.
A Ana viu-nos. (Ana saw us.)
A Ana não nos viu. (Ana didn’t see us.)
A verb may have two types of object depending if they receive the action directly or indirectly.
➡ The direct object is the direct recipient of the action:
Eu dei um livro à Ana. (I gave a book to Ana).
If we ask the question what was given? the answer would be um livro (a book), so the book is the direct object of the verb.
Eu vi o João. (I saw João.)
If we ask the question who was seen? the answer would be João, so João is the direct object of the verb.
➡ The indirect object is a secondary recipient of the action and is introduced by the preposition a (to).
Ele ofereceu um livro ao Carlos. (He offered flowers to Carlos.)
If we ask the question to whom were the flowers given? the answer is to Carlos, so Carlos is the indirect object of the verb.
Direct object pronouns (pronomes de complemento direto)
Direct object pronouns replace the direct objects of the verb.
Eu dei um livro à Ana. (I gave a book to Ana.) ➡ Eu dei-o à Ana. (I gave it to Ana.)
O Carlos deu-me flores. (Carlos gave me flowers.)
te (casual you)
Eu vi-te na festa. (I saw you [casual] at the party.)
o (it*, him or formal masculine you)
Eu vi-o há cinco minutos. (I saw it*/him/you [formal and masculine] five minutes ago.)
a (it*, her and formal singular you)
Eu vi-a há cinco minutos. (I saw it*/her/you [formal and feminine] five minutes ago.)
Ele ofereceu-nos bilhetes. (He offered us tickets.) Lookout: The pronunciation of the letter o in nos is similar to the “oo” in the word zoo. It differs greatly from nós (we) which has an open sound like in the word Oscar.
vos (plural you)
Eu dou-vos tudo. (I give you [plural] everything.)
os (masculine them)
Eu dei-os ao João. (I gave them [masculine] to João.)
as (feminine them)
Eu convidei-as para a festa. (I invited them [feminine] to the party.)
* Note that Portuguese doesn’t have a 3rd person-neutral pronoun equivalent to the English it, so it’s always replaced by o or a, depending on the gender of the noun it replaces.
O filme? Eu vi-o. (The movie? I saw it.)
A casa? Eu comprei-a. (The house? I bought it.)
Third-person alternative spellings
The third-person direct object pronouns (o, a, os, as) take alternative spellings (-lo, -la, -los, -las and -no, -na- nos, -nas) in the situations that are explained below.
They exist to facilitate the spoken language.
-lo, -la, -los, -las
When object pronouns o(s) / a(s) follow verb forms ending in -r, -s or -z, these endings drop and they change to lo(s) / la(s).
Verb ending with -r:
Vamos servir as sobremesas. (Let’s serve the desserts.) ➡ Vamos servi-las. (Let’s serve them.)
Verb ending with -s:
Bebes vinho ao almoço? (Do you drink wine at lunch?) ➡ Bebe-lo ao almoço? (Do you drink it at lunch?)
Verb ending with -z:
Diz a verdade. (Tell/Say the truth.) ➡ Di-la. (Say it.)
There are two exceptions to this rule:
Verb querer (to want) in the form quer ➡ Quere-o, quere-a, quere-os, quere-as;
Verb ter (to have) in the form tens ➡ Tem-lo, tem-la, tem-los, tem-las;
The use of accents with the spelling modifications -lo(s), -la(s):
Because words that end with -r, or -z (and -l as well) are stressed on the last syllable (unless there is an accent in another syllable) when losing the -r or -z, the stress on the last syllable is also lost.
With verbs that end in -ar or -az, to indicate that the stress remains there and the sound is open, an acute accent is added to the last syllable.
chamar + -a becomes chamá-la (to call her/it); faz + -a becomes fá-la (do it).
If the verb ends with -er, -ez or -or we use a circumflex accent that indicates the sound is closed.
comer + -o becomes comê-lo (to eat him/it); compor + as becomes compô-las (to compose them).
Verbs that end in -air (atrair, subtrair) or -uir (destruir, construir, concluir) need the accent when the -r is removed. The accent avoids the formation of a diphthong with the vowel a or u.
Isso está a atrair vespas. (That’s attracting wasps.) ➡ Isso está a atraí-las.(That’s attracting them.)
Vou construir um castelo. (I’m going to build a castle.) ➡ Vou construí-lo. (I’m going to build it.)
-no, -na, -nos, -nas
When object pronouns o(s) / a(s) follow verb forms ending in a nasal sound, corresponding to the spellings -ão, -õe or -m, they change to no(s) / na(s).
Elas dão as prendas às crianças. (They give the gifts to the children.) ➡ Elas dão-nas às crianças. (They give them to the children.)
Por favor, põe a mesa. (Please, set the table.) ➡ Por favor, põe-na. (Please, set it.)
Levem os casacos. (Take the jackets.) ➡ Levem-nos. (Take them.)
Note: These alternative spellings are not used if the direct object pronoun is placed before the verb.
Não as vamos servir. (We’re not going to serve them.)
Nunca o vês? (You never see him?)
Eles não as dão às crianças. (They don’t give them to the children.)
Indirect Object Pronouns (Pronomes de complemento indireto)
Indirect object pronouns replace the indirect objects of the verb, which are the secondary recipients of the action. They are introduced by the preposition a (to). Notice that in English, we often leave out the preposition to (tell them instead of tell to them).
Eu dei um livro à Ana. (I gave a book to Ana) ➡ Eu dei-lhe um livro. (I gave her a book).
The indirect object pronouns are:
me (to me)
Eu deu-me o livro. (He gave me the book.)
te (to you [casual])
Eu comprei-te um vestido. (I bought you [casual] a dress.)
lhe (to him/to her/to you [singular formal])
Eu enviei-lhe uma carta. (I sent him/her/you [formal] a letter.)
nos (to us)
Ele deu-nos um aviso. (He gave us a warning.)
vos (to you [plural])
Ele mostrou-vos a casa? (Did he show you [plural] the house?)
lhes (to them [feminine or masculine])
Eu disse-lhes a verdade. (I told them the truth.)
The indirect object pronouns are almost the same as the direct object pronouns, with the exception of the third person.
The third-person direct object pronouns are o (masculine formal you/him/it), a (feminine formal you/her/it), os (masculine them) and as (feminine them), while the indirect object pronouns are lhe and lhes.
Lhe represents to it, to him, to her and the formal to you, while to them is represented by lhes.
Eu dei comida ao gato. (I gave food to the cat.)
Direct object pronoun ➡ Eu dei-a ao gato. (I gave it to the cat.)
Indirect object pronoun ➡ Eu dei-lhe a comida. (I gave it the food.)
Position of the pronouns
After the verb
Pronouns normally come after the verb in simple affirmative sentences. In that case, we always use a hyphen.
- Este quadro? Sim, eu pintei-o. (This painting? Yes, I painted it.)
- Eles fizeram-na repensar a sua escolha. (They made her rethink her choice.)
Before the verb
The pronouns come before the verb when it is preceded by:
1) Negative words (não, nunca/jamais, nada, nenhum, ninguém, nem)
- Este quadro? Não, eu não o pintei. (This painting? No, I didn’t paint it.)
- Eles nunca a fizeram repensar a sua escolha. (They never made her rethink her choice.)
2) Question words (quem, quando, como, qual, etc)
- Quando é que o viste? (When did you see him?)
- Quem a construiu? (Who built it?)
3) Certain conjunctions (those used in subordinate clauses: que, porque, como, enquanto, etc), adverbs (talvez, ainda, já, também, etc), indefinite pronouns or determiners (algum/a, muito/a(s), pouco/a(s), etc).
- Eu já os pus na cama. (I already put them to bed.)
- Ele ainda a considera uma grande amiga. (He still considers her a great friend.)
- Apesar de o achar incompetente, vou dar-lhe uma oportunidade. (Even though I think he’s incompetent, I’ll give him a chance.)
In the middle of the verb
When the verb is conjugated in the future or the conditional, the object pronoun is placed between the verb stem and the conjugated ending of the verb, separated by two hyphens.
- Ele verá. (He will see.) ➡ Ele ver-nos-á. (I will see us.)
- Eu pintarei. (I will paint) ➡ Eu pintá-lo-ei. ( I will paint it/him/you [masculine formal].)
- Eu chamaria. (I would call.) ➡ Eu chamá-la-ia. (I would call it/her/you.)
- Eles chamariam. (They would call.) ➡ Eles chamar-te-iam. (They would call you [casual].)
Contraction of Direct and Indirect Object Pronouns
Do you want to spice up your sentences and make them snappy? Try out the contraction of direct and indirect object pronouns!
By combining the two pronouns into one, you can simplify your sentence and impress your friends. For example, instead of saying He gave me the book, you can simply say He gave it to me using the contraction Ele deu-mo, in Portuguese. Just remember to put the indirect object pronoun before the direct object pronoun, and you’re good to go!
The contractions with the indirect object pronouns nos (to us) and vos (to you [plura]) are not so straightforward and are rarely used.
Differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese
Brazilian Portuguese is much more informal than European Portuguese, and the use of object pronouns is quite different in day-to-day use. Even in writing, Brazilians tend to employ a spoken version of object pronouns.
Here are some key differences in the use of object pronouns in Brazilian and European Portuguese variants.
- In Brazil, first-person object pronoun me (me) is always placed before the verb.
- The object pronoun nos (us) tends to be used less and less in Brazil. Instead, Brazilians tend to use a gente and it goes after the verb.
- Ela viu a gente. (She saw us.)
- Brazilians rarely use te, o(s) or a(s) as a pronoun and tend to use the subject pronouns você, ele, ela, vocês, eles and elas as object pronouns. The pronoun você is informal in Brazil.
- Eu vi eles ontem. (I saw them yesterday.)
- Eu vi você ontem. (I saw you yesterday.)
- In Brazil, it’s common to use an alternative to the indirect pronouns using the preposition para (to).
- Eu disse-lhe. (I told him/her.) ➡ becomes eu disse para ela/ele.
- Ele ligou-me. (He called me.) ➡ becomes ele ligou para mim.
Which object pronouns to use in a formal and informal speech?
In formal situations, such as in a business or academic setting, it is generally more appropriate to use the 3rd person singular pronouns o / a (direct) and lhe (indirect) instead of the 2nd person singular pronoun te (direct and indirect) when addressing someone.
For example, instead of saying eu vejo-te (I see you) or eu trouxe-te flores (I brought you flowers), it is more polite to say eu vejo-o/a (I see you) and eu trouxe-lhe flores (I brought you [formal] flowers.).