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Portuguese Object Pronouns

Little words like lhe, te, or nos often surround Portuguese verbs. Those are object pronouns just like him, you or us in English.

Simply put, object pronouns indicate to whom or what the action refers. 

There are two kinds of object pronouns: ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’. While the former concerns a direct object, the latter concerns an indirect object (we’ll soon see what these are exactly).

Now, language learners often confuse direct with indirect object pronouns. Another common issue concerns their placement as students seem to have trouble knowing if they should place object pronouns before or after the verb.

In what follows, I will explain Portuguese direct and indirect object pronouns and the principles guiding their placement in the sentence. 

Let’s dive in.

Portuguese object pronouns: getting to know them

Direct vs indirect object: what’s the difference?

Object pronouns are personal pronouns used to replace direct and indirect objects of a verb. You may be thinking: What the heck does that mean?

Fair enough. Let’s look at this sentence:

O Joel deu uma flor à Isabel.
Joel gave Isabel a flower.

Breaking down the above sentence into its basic syntactic units we have: 

Verb (action)deu (verb dar)
Direct objecta flor
Indirect objectà Isabel

Concerning the example above, the ‘direct’ object is ‘what’ the action is falling upon (flor), and the ‘indirect’ object is the ‘recipient’ of the action (Joel). 

Here’s another way to tell one from the other. Concerning sentences with direct and indirect objects (that’s not always the case), the direct object is normally introduced by an article or determiner – uma flor – whereas the indirect object is typically preceded by a preposition – à Isabel

Now that you are more familiar with these concepts, let’s take a look at the pronouns themselves.

Direct vs indirect object pronouns

Look at these two variants of the above sentence:

(1) O Joel deu-a à Isabel.
Joel gave it to Isabel.

(2) O Joel deu-lhe uma flor. 
Joel gave her a flower.

In the first sentence, the direct object, uma flor, is replaced by the direct object pronoun a. In the second, the indirect object is replaced by the indirect object pronoun lhe

Here are the Portuguese object pronouns, direct and indirect:  



Note that apart from the 3-person (singular and plural), direct and indirect object pronouns look the same.

Also, the direct object pronouns in the 3-person have distinct morphology according to the gender of the object they refer to, whereas the indirect object pronouns only agree in number (singular v. plural).

How many objects?

Our sentence above – O Joel deu uma flor à Isabel – takes both a direct and an indirect object. But that’s not always the case. 

Whether a sentence takes two object pronouns (direct and indirect), only one, or none, depends on the verb. In other words, a verb can call to both, one, or none.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Direct and indirect object

In the sentence below, the verb mostrar  calls to both direct and indirect objects:

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