In this lesson, we’ll have a look at direct and indirect object pronouns in Portuguese. These fall into the category of pronomes clíticos Play slow audio Play normal audio clitic pronouns, along with reflexive pronouns, which we will cover separately, but which follow many of the same rules.
Keep in mind that we focusing on how to use object pronouns in European Portuguese, as there are some differences in the Brazilian dialect.
So What IS a Clitic Object Pronoun?
You may recall from the Reflexive Verbs unit that a clitic pronoun is an unstressed morpheme (sort of like a mini-word) that goes along with a verb. A clitic object pronoun shows to whom or to what the action refers. In other words, it takes the place of the people or objects represented by the direct or indirect objects.
For example, the direct object pronouns -me and -os:
Ele disse-me Play normal audio He told me
Ela viu-os na televisão Play slow audio Play normal audio She saw them on TV
Chart of Object Pronouns in Portuguese
Here are the direct and indirect object pronouns (“clitics”) associated with each subject pronoun:
- Me, te, nos, and vos: The same word is used for both direct and indirect objects.
- For the rest: You have to pay attention to whether it’s direct or indirect (we’ll discuss the difference in the next Learning Note).
- The pronouns o, a, os and as are only used in place of direct objects.
- In contrast, lhe/lhes are only used to represent an indirect object.
Position of Object Pronouns
Before we continue learn more about object pronouns in Portuguese, we should learn about where these pronouns can be placed in relation to the verb.
There are three possible positions:
- ⬅️ Before the verb
- ⬇️ In the middle of the verb
- ➡️ After the verb
⬅️ Before the Verb
The object pronoun comes before the verb in questions (after an interrogative adverb), negative statements (after words like não), and in some other contexts we’ll discuss more below.
- Ninguém nos viu Play normal audio Nobody saw us
- Quem te fez isto? Play normal audio Who did this to you(sing.,inf.)?
- Não vos parece um dia lindo? Play slow audio Play normal audio Doesn’t it look like a beautiful day to you (pl.)?
⬇️ Middle of the Verb
Pronouns that appear in the middle of the verb look complicated at first, but the rules are actually fairly simple.
These forms are only used with two types of verbs: the future indicative tense (the first example) and the conditional (the second example). The pronoun is placed between the verb stem (e.g. entregar-, ter-) and the ending of the verb (e.g. -ei, -ia), always between two hyphens. Examples:
- Future Indicative: Entregar-lhe-ei o ensaio amanhã. Play slow audio Play normal audio I will hand him my essay tomorrow.
- entregarei → entregar-lhe-ei
- Conditional: Eu ter-lhe-ia ligado se tivesse bateria no telemóvel. Play slow audio Play normal audio I would have called her if I had battery on my cell phone. (i.e. if my phone were charged)
- teria → ter-lhe-ia
➡️ After the Verb
Pronouns appear after the verb in simple affirmative statements (and also after an auxiliary verb that precedes a past participle). These are separated from the verb by a hyphen. For example:
- Eu digitalizo-osI'll scan them
- Eu vi-a ontem no café. Play slow audio Play normal audio I saw her yesterday at the café.
- Eles pagaram-me o jantar. Play slow audio Play normal audio They paid for my dinner.
- A Joana disse-me isso ontem. Play slow audio Play normal audio Joana told me that yesterday.
- Dá-lhe uma caneta, por favor. Play slow audio Play normal audio Give her a pen, please.
Summary: Rules for Placing Object Pronouns in European Portuguese
If the rules for where to place an object pronoun seem complicated, you can start by just remembering this summary of the general guidelines:
- 🚫 A sentence will never begin with a clitic pronoun.
- ➡️ Simple affirmative statements: The pronoun comes after the verb
- ➡️ Auxiliary verbs before a past participle: The pronoun comes after the auxiliary verb
- ⬇️ Future indicative tense and the conditional tense: The pronoun is placed in the middle of the verb
- ⬅️ Negative statements, questions, and most other grammatical constructions: The pronoun comes before the verb
That last rule covers a lot of specific contexts, so if you want more detail, continue to the next section where you’ll find a list of the situations in which the pronoun comes before the verb. (We think it’s easier to learn from experience rather than memorizing every rule, but it helps to at least be familiar with these.)
The Clitic Pronoun Comes Before the Verb…
🚫 Within negative statements (following a negative word like não, nunca, nada, or ninguém)Nunca me deixas fazer nada Play normal audio You never let me do anything
❓ When the verb follows certain adverbs, including “question words” (interrogative adverbs and interrogative pronouns)
Já lhe compraste a prenda? Play normal audio Have you bought him a gift?
Não sei onde me vou esconder Play normal audio I don't know where I'll hide
Quem nos vai buscar? Play slow audio Play normal audio Who will pick us up?
〰️ When the verb follows an indefinite, relative, or demonstrative pronoun
- Indefinite pronouns are pronouns that refer to a noun in a more general way (todos, alguém, qualquer, cada, certos, tantos, etc).
- Relative pronouns include que, quem, etc.
- Demonstrative pronouns include este, esse, isso, aquilo, and others.
Alguém a viu chegar? Play normal audio Did someone see her coming?
Qualquer pessoa se teria queixado Play normal audio Anybody would have complained
Foi esse fato que me deram Play normal audio That's the suit that they gave me
➕ When the verb follows a subordinating conjunction
O gato não vai embora enquanto lhe deres atenção Play normal audio The cat won't leave as long as you give him attention
O meu joelho dói quando me mexo Play slow audio Play normal audio My knee hurts when I move
Chegámos agora porque nos despachámos mais cedo Play normal audio We came now because we finished early
Se me derem os livros, eu digitalizo-os. Play slow audio Play normal audio If they give me the books, I’ll scan them.
❗️ In an exclamation or when expressing a desire such as
As a reference, here are few related topics that are outside the scope of this unit:
- Reflexive pronouns (another type of “clitic” pronoun)
- Placement of object pronouns within verb phrases (locuções verbais), i.e. when using auxiliary verbs.
💡 Note to Practice Portuguese members: Clitic pronouns are a tricky topic for many learners. When possible, we recommend keeping these Learning Notes open in a separate tab, so you can reference them while completing the exercises in the upcoming lessons. We’ll cover the following topics throughout this Unit, but if you want to go ahead and open them now, click the links below:
Object Pronouns in Portuguese (done!) | Direct vs Indirect Objects | Me & Te | 3rd Person Clitic Pronouns (o, a, lhe, etc) | Nos & Vos | Merging Clitic Pronouns
Then click Mark as Complete here to continue on!