object pronouns in portuguese

Object Pronouns in Portuguese

In this lesson, we’ll have a look at direct and indirect object pronouns in Portuguese. These fall into the category of pronomes clíticos paused audio playing audio 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 paused audio playing audio 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:

Subject Pronoun Direct Object Pronoun Indirect Object Pronoun
Eu me
Tu te
Ele, Você (male) o (lo, no) lhe
Ela, Você (female) a (la, na)
Nós nos
Vocês vos
Eles os (los, nos) lhes
Elas as (las, nas)

Important Notes:

    • 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? paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio 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)
    • teriater-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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I saw her yesterday at the café.
  • Eles pagaram-me o jantar. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio They paid for my dinner.
  • A Joana disse-me isso ontem. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Joana told me that yesterday.
  • Dá-lhe uma caneta, por favor. paused audio playing audio 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)

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? paused audio playing audio 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 paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio 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

Deus me livre! paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio God forbid
Quem me dera! paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I wish!

Related Topics

As a reference, here are few related topics that are outside the scope of this unit:

Next Up!

💡 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 ObjectsMe & Te3rd Person Clitic Pronouns (o, a, lhe, etc)Nos & VosMerging Clitic Pronouns
Then click Mark as Complete here to continue on!

Comments

  • Hi,
    All very helpful.
    A wee comment, in the last translation example “they paid for me dinner” is perhaps used colloquially in some parts of the uk and elsewhere, however “my” would normally be considered the correct form.
    Keep up the excellent work.

    • Hello, Christopher! Negative sentences keep to the general rule: the clitics are placed before the verb (proclitically).An example: “Não me apetece estudar” (I don’t feel like studying). This is also valid for negative questions: “Não te foste embora?” (Didn’t you go away?). I hope these examples helped!

  • My recollection is that Brazilian Portuguese has very different rules with regard to clitic pronouns. Is that the case?

    • Olá, Jay. Brazilian Portuguese generally has a strong preference for proclitically placed pronouns and the two other options (mesoclitic, enclitic) are avoided 🙂

    • This is tough section for sure! I would recommend repeating this unit and reading through the Learning Notes a few times. Also I’ll make a note to see if we can reorganize in a way to make it less overwhelming!

  • Hi Molly, I suggest breaking the topic into small pieces and, introducing the linguistic jargon slowly. We’re almost learning 2 languages here!
    Keep the exercises simple and in the present tense so that students just need to concentrate on the pronouns, and give lots of easy examples.
    I used to visit France ands speak French well enough to work in their language. My German is not as good, however I reached level B2 in that but now, in Portuguese I’ve gone back to Duolingo to revise pronouns because you’re making it too difficult. It doesn’t need to be difficult.

    • Ah I forgot to add: Be cautious when using Brazilian Portuguese sites to review pronouns (e.g. Duolingo) as there are some differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese. You can read more here: European vs Brazilian Portuguese under the “clitic pronouns before the verb” heading.

  • Hi again Molly. I’ve remembered that I first learned pronouns with the book ‘Basic Portuguese’ by Sue Tyson-Ward (McGraw Hill pub.).
    It has a short chapter on direct-object pronouns with easy examples, followed by another, similar, short chapter on indirect-object pronouns followed by a third on position of pronouns. I see that I completed all the exercises without difficulty and I strongly recommend the book to others.

  • Before starting with Practice Portuguese, I’d had lessons on placing object pronouns before and after the verb, but I’d never had a lesson explaining that they can placed them in the middle of verbs. I had seen cases where the pronoun was I the middle while reading books, but I was always confused when I saw them. I thought maybe ia and ei were new pronouns I had not yet learned. I am glad to finally have a lesson explaining this!

  • É um bocadinho difícil esta parte, vou estudar muito. Tenho uma pergunta na frase : Não vos parece um dia lindo? é possível também usar esta outra frase: Não lhes parece um dia lindo?

  • I am a bit confused about the without object pronoun example:

    Without object pronoun: Dá uma caneta “a ela”, por favor. (indirect)

    Is “a ela” optional? Meaning the correct sentence can be written in both ways as below?
    Option 1: Dá uma caneta, por favor.
    Option 2: Dá uma caneta a ela, por favor.

    Thank you.

    • The “without object pronoun” examples are there to show you what exactly the pronoun is replacing. That is, the pronoun “-lhe” in this sentence would be replacing “a ela”:
      – Dá-lhe uma caneta = Dá uma caneta a ela

      Both options are grammatically possible, but using object pronouns is usually preferred.

      Note that the other option you wrote, “Dá uma caneta, por favor”, is already a different sentence, it’s not the same. There’s no object there, so it would just translate to “Give a pen, please”, which feels incomplete.

  • Hi,
    First of all thank you so much for this course in European Portuguese, it is really good.
    Could you please help me understand what is the form “conhecê” in “ Estamos ansiosos por conhecê-la”
    Why is it not the infinitive: conhecer ?
    Thanks in advance
    Muito obrigada

    • Olá, Jenny! Thanks for your kind words 🙂 In “conhecê-la”, the infinitive is actually there, but because it ends in the consonant R, this consonant is dropped when the pronoun “-a” is attached (and the pronoun gains an L). We touch on that here: Clitic Pronouns: 3rd Person

      The accent is added to distinguish between “…conhecê-la” (conhecer + a –> infinitive form) and “conhece-la” (conheces + a –> simple present, second-person singular).

  • Trying so hard and constantly failing to get my head around this language and to use it (but love what you guys do). ..

    I get SO lost with trying to make sense of the explanations of grammar. Perhaps it’s my age, or my brain….but for me it’s like trying to learn 2 languages at once (the language of Grammar and the language of Portuguese). Feeling useless (again!). Doh.

    • I completely understand! We try to reduce the “grammar lingo” when possible, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.🙃 Clitic object pronouns are an especially tricky topic.

      When it’s feeling like the grammar explanations are overwhelming, I would recommend 1) Taking notes — putting it in your own words might help you wrap your head around it, and/or 2) Spend time just focusing on the example sentences and try to learn from those. Often you can notice patterns in the examples and figure out how it works without having to understand all the complex grammar behind it.

      Sometimes this 2nd method is even better, depending on how you learn. In a real conversation you won’t have time to analyze the grammar, but if you have enough exposure to different examples, you’ll eventually develop a more “natural” sense of how to form the sentence (at least most of the time 🙂 ). And don’t worry if you get to the end of a Learning Note and still don’t understand fully. The phrases that come up throughout the Lesson activities will give you more opportunities to figure it out. And if you’re using Smart Review, it will keep coming up again to practice there too. You can even work through the whole unit a 2nd time. It might feel a bit easier on the 2nd try, once you have all the extra context!

      • Thank you Molly. I´ll give your suggestions a try . It´s taking me so long to learn (and lack of people to practise with doesn´t help!). Not to mention Covid-19´s contribution to throwing a spanner in the works on so many levels. The obligatory use of face mask does nothing to help me decipher what people here are saying (though pre-Covid was only marginally different for me!!) 😉 O meu deus!

  • Hi. Thank you for the post. But I’m still Confused with the examples.

    Eu vi-a ontem no café.
    I saw her yesterday at the café.

    And this one

    Dá-lhe uma caneta, por favor
    Give her a pen, please

    What makes the first one using via-a instead of via-lhe?

    Thank you in advance! Your website is really helpful.

    • Olá, Ridha! Those pronouns refer to two different kinds of object. The pronoun “-a” is replacing a direct object (what they saw), while the pronoun “-lhe” is replacing an indirect object (who they’re giving the pen to). If in the second sentence, you wanted to replace the direct object instead (what they’re giving: the pen), you’d also end up with “Dá-a”.

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