The DO/IO Lesson Outline

Taking the fear out of this grammar point

The first thing I do is establish a common vocabulary with the students.  I ask "What is a NOUN?"  You'll ususally have at least one person who can answer, "A person, place or thing."  Make sure everyone understands this, then ask "What's a PRONOUN?"  If you're lucky, you'll have someone -- usually the same person who answered your noun question -- say, "It takes the place of a noun."  I tell them the the DIRECT OBJECTs and the INDIRECT OBJECTs that we're going to study are NOUNs.

It is at this juncture that I use an analogy that everyone in the room can understand: I liken the sentence to a football game.  The NOUNS are the starting team, and the PRONOUNS are always on the sidelines telling the coach: "Send me into the game, coach, I can take the place of the noun . . . I can play that position just as well! . . . send me in coach, please!!" This example usually helps them visualize the role that PRONOUNS play in the English and Spanish languages.    I stop here and take a moment to review the concept of concordancia -- agreement -- in the Spanish language between nouns and the adjectives that modify them.    I ask them, "What are two characteristics of every noun in the Spanish language?"    When I get the answers I want -- number and gender -- I then review the fact that adjectives modify nouns, and that they have to agree in number and gender with the noun they modify.    This principle isn't new to them. . .they've been using it since Chapter 1 in their textbooks, i.e., Juan es alto. . .Las estudiantes inteligentes estudian mucho. . .Julia, una mujer alta, atlética, y simpática, llega a clase todos los días, etc.    I tell them that this principle is important when dealing with DOs because, just like in a football game, when there is a substitution necessary, we always send in like-for-like.    In the case of a football game, if a quarterback comes out, we sure don't send in a defensive lineman to play that position, we send in the second-string quarterback.    If we're going to use a DIRECT OBJECT PRONOUN to take the place of the DIRECT OBJECT, then we're going to have to "send in" like-for-like, that is, if the DO is feminine and singular, we have to substitute the DO PRONOUN which reflects that gender and number.    Likewise if the the DO is maculine and plural, the PRONOUN we send into the sentence to take the place of the DO noun has to be both masculine and plural.

Next, I like to show the students that we use DIRECT OBJECTS and INDIRECT OBJECTS in English all day-long, every day of the year...telling them, of course, that both of these parts of speech are NOUNS.  I let them know that Spanish uses DIRECT OBJECTS and INDIRECT OBJECTS exactly like we do in English, and so they really aren't all that "foreign."  Also, I remind them that because these OBJECTS are NOUNS, they have PRONOUNS which can be substituted into the sentence to take their place.  At this juncture I tell my students that I refer to DIRECT OBJECTS, and their pronouns, as "DO's" and INDIRECT OBJECTS, and their pronouns, as "IO's".  In order to demonstrate to them how many DOs and IOs they use every day I give them the following example:

This Saturday is my sister's birthday.  I want to buy a cheap, stupid gift for my sister tomorrow.  I don't want to pay too much for the cheap, stupid gift.  I think I'll buy the cheap, stupid gift for my sister at K-Mart.  I need to send the cheap, stupid gift to my sister by overnight mail.  I think I'll ship the cheap, stupid gift to my sister by FedEx.  I hope the cheap, stupid gift gets to my sister in time for the party...and so on....

I then ask them, "What's wrong with that?"  Invariably, they point out the overuse of the proper nouns "the gift . . . my sister."   I then repeat "The cheap, stupid gift, my sister...the cheap, stupid gift, my sister....   and tell them the obvious: "We don't talk like that in English, and they don't talk like that in Spanish."   I then repeat the monologue word-for-word, pausing to allow the students to fill in the correct DO and IO in English.

This Saturday is my sister's birthday.  I want to buy a cheap, stupid gift for HER tomorrow.  I don't want to pay too much for IT.  I think I'll buy IT for HER at K-Mart.  I need to send IT to HER by overnight mail.  I think I'll ship IT to HER by FedEx.  I hope IT gets to HER in time for the party....

Now it's time to have the class tell you the DIRECT OBJECT PRONOUN list.  I write them on the board as they call 'em out:
me nos
te os
lo/la los/las

Then I ask them, "What two questions do DIRECT OBJECTS, and their pronouns, answer?  The students -- those who did the homework reading, that is -- answer, "WHO? and WHAT?"  After writing these two words on the board, your list then looks like this:
    DO  "Who?" "What?"
me nos
te os
lo/la los/las

It's important to give students as many different ways as possible to understand DOs, given the fact that many are not being trained in English grammar in their middle and high school English classes.  I tell them that it might help them to figure out which noun is the DIRRECT OBJECT -- if, indeed, there is one in the sentence! -- as the noun in the sentence that is "directly" impacted by the action of the verb, hence the name "DIRECT" OBJECT.  I use my sister's birthday example again to show them what I mean.  I then say this sentence (or one of the other sentences from Sis' birthday example paragraph) "I am going to buy a cheap, stupid gift for my sister," immediately followed by the question, "What noun in this sentence is being "DIRECTLY" impacted by the "buying action" that "I am doing?"  Invariably, all the students understand that it is the "gift" that is being bought.

Once they've got the concept of the DOs somewhat under control to this point, I ask them to create the INDIRECT OBJECT PRONOUN list, writing them down on the board as they call them out:
me nos
te os
le les

Once they've got 'em all listed I ask, "What two questions do INDIRECT OBJECTS and their pronouns answer?"   The students should answer, "TO WHOM? and FOR WHOM?" and then your list on the board looks like this:
         IO   "To Whom?" "For Whom?"
me nos
te os
le les

Once that's established on the board, I then write my Spanish language example sentence on the board:

Yo compro un regalo para mi hermana

I then say to my students, "When you are first starting out trying to understand and manipulate DOs and IOs, the easiest way to get a handle on identifying the DOs and IOs in any sentence is to "deconstruct" the sentence, that is, IDENTIFY and LABEL the subject and the verb before doing anything else."  I then tell them the reason they should label the subject and verb is to eliminate these two parts of speech from consideration as the DIRECT OBJECT and the INDIRECT OBJECT.  I make the statement, "Neither the subject of a sentence, nor the verb in the sentence will ever be a DO or IO.  They're the subject and the verb after all. DUH!!"    So, after having them identify the subject and the verb of our example sentence on the board, I label them and our sentence looks like this:

S   V
Yo compro un regalo para mi hermana

I then ask the question, "Is there a NOUN left in the sentence that answers 'WHO?' or 'WHAT?' I buy?."    Of course they answer "un regalo."  Our sentence then looks like this after I've marked it:

S   V     DO
Yo compro un regalo para mi hermana

Once the subject and verb are marked, I then ask the question, "Is there a noun left in the sentence that answers either of the questions: 'TO WHOM?' or 'FOR WHOM?' I buy el regalo?"  They answer "hermana."  Our sentence then looks like this after I've marked it:

S  V       DO         IO
Yo compro un regalo para mi hermana

We then work out the substitution of the pronouns for the nouns.   I ask them if there is any pronoun from our DO list that can take the place of the DIRECT OBJECT regalo, that is both singular and masculine.   They usually can answer lo and I write that in.   It is here that I show how Spanish and English are exactly the same with respect to the treatment of any adjectives that are being used as modifiers for the DO.  I say to them, "Looking at Sis' birthday again, in Spanish, just like in English, once we have established what it is we are talking about -- our DIRECT OBJECT: "a cheap, stupid gift" -- we substitute the DO PRONOUN "it" for 'the cheap, stupid gift'."   I remind them that all the adjectives we were using to describe the gift -- "the," "cheap," "stupid" -- were included in the substitution of the PRONOUN for the NOUN.   They usually understand this principle really well because it's exactly the same in their native language.   So, our example sentence now looks like this:

S   V       DO       IO
Yo compro un regalo para mi hermana
Asking the question, "Is there is a pronoun from our IO list that can take the place of the INDIRECT OBJECT hermana and any modifiers?"    They always answer, "le."    I write that on the board.    NOTE: I purposely include the indefinite article with the DO, and the preposition, possessive adjective with the IO as I ask them to identify the respective objects.  This is a subliminal reminder that all the elements associated with the object must be removed from the sentence when we insert the pronoun.

S  V      DO         IO
Yo compro un regalo para mi hermana
lo         le

It's important to let the students know that you are showing them the steps their brains go through to arrive at the correct pronoun.    I tell them "Your brains will do these operations in nanoseconds once you've input the correct information about the steps to get to the correct DO or IO. . .well, milliseconds for some of you. . .uh, seconds for some. . .and for me?    Sometimes it takes minutes!!    Just kidding!!"    I then rewrite the sentence directly underneath the original sentence, using the DO and IO pronouns.    Do not erase the original sentence!    You want your students to be able to visualize exactly what are the steps their brains must go through as they proceed from an "original" sentence that has a DIRECT OBJECT or has a DIRECT and INDIRECT OBJECT to a "normal" sentence which uses DO and IO PRONOUNS.    I firmly believe that "training the brain" is very important as we seek to teach our students the correct use of the Spanish language.    Students who "see" the mechanisms whereby their brains arrive at correct grammar are students who are more confident, and who are more willing to be "risk-takers."    Just a thought. . . .

Yo compro lo le

In order to get them to relax about what has just occurred and what they're seeing on the board I make use of something I learned in the Navy.    I say to them, "Wow, that looks kinda funny, huh?"    I then say it out loud quickly and say, "That doesn't sound very much like Spanish.    It sounds like Mandarin Chinese."    Now I launch into a few things I remember from military Chinese classes I took many, many years ago:

Ni hau ma . . . hau bu hau (How are you? . . . Just fine, thanks)

Wo xiuan ni . . . wo gao Jiungoju (I like you . . . I buy American clocks)

Wo bi mai gao ( can't remember what the heck this means )

By this time they are smiling.    I tell them that is Spanish, not Mandarin Chinese, so we need to make some changes.    I then tell them that there are very specific RULES OF PLACEMENT for these (and other) pronouns. They are:

1. Before the conjugated verb

2. Attached to the infinitive

3. Attached to the present participle

4. Attached to the affirmative command

5. Before the negative command, but AFTER the "No"

I purposefully kept the RULES short -- four or five words -- and put them in this order because I wanted some sense of symmetry to them.    That is, I think students will remember them better if there is a pattern to them: BEFORE. . .ATTACHED. . .ATTACHED. . .ATTACHED . . .BEFORE.    I then ask the students which rule applies to our sentence on the board.    They will see that it is RULE #1, and I rewrite the sentence under the original changed sentence, again, not erasing any of the previous sentences, as I want them to see the "steps-by-step processes" that their brains are going through to come up with a good Spanish sentence.

Y lo le compro

I then say,"Now, some of you may be asking yourselves the question, 'Does it matter which pronoun comes first or do they stay in the same place that they were in when they were in the original sentence?'"    I tell them that the order of the pronouns is the same as "Steve's Rule of Life" and that if they will remember this rule, not only will they remember the order of DO and IO pronouns, but they will be better human beings.    That rule of life is this: "People are more important than things.    People always come first."   I let that sink in for a few moments, and then ask them what our sentence will now look like.  They answer:

Yo le lo compro

I then read the sentence out loud, telling them that "You can't le lo in Spanish.    You can lay low on the battlefield. . .you can lay low when you girlfriend's dad is looking for you with a shotgun. . . but you can't le lo in Spanish!!"    (Note: I am not recommending that you use the latter example for any students not in college -- you will probably get into hot water with someone)    I then tell my students that "Neither can you le la in Spanish -- and start singing an old Clapton song 'Leyla, you knock me off my feet, Leyla. . . .'"    I continue with, "No double l pronouns together in Spanish ever.    No le las. . .no le los. . .no les la, les lo, les las, les las!!!"    I tell them that Spanish uses the PRONOUN se to take the place of the le or the les in those sentences that end up with a "double l set of DIRECT and INDIRECT OBJECT PRONOUNS.

Yo se lo compro is our correct answer.

It's about now that you'll start seeing looks of bewilderment, frowns and, yes, even anger.    I forestall the complaints and comments of "What a stupid language!. . .That's dumb!. . .How are we going to know who se is?. . .and on and on and on."  One would think that by this time, as you've taken them by the hand and led them through the entire process, entertained them with Chinese, Rules of Life and all that, that they would have a sense of confidence that you wouldn't leave them hangin' out in the rain.   But, no, that trust factor is in real short supply when you're asking them to learn a foreign language!  I tell them: "I promise you that no Spanish-speaker will ever come into your house, your classroom or a party you're at and say something like, '¡Yo se los doy hoy!'   Just like I would never walk into class and say, I am giving them to him today!  You'd be asking, 'What's that mean ?. . .Who is him?. . .What is them?'  It's weird for someone to do that in English, and it's the same in Spanish.  However, what if I had said, 'Yesterday, my brother was looking for some metal fenceposts and it just so happened that I had some extras in the barn. I am giving them to him today.'?  Would you then know who him was?. . .what them referred to in that statement I made?"  Of course you would!  Spanish is no different."  They see how it works in English, and that helps them see that it's not so difficult in Spanish either. . . .

I give them examples of how the other rules of placement work by erasing the compro and replacing it with voy a comprar, then with estoy comprando and so on (this depends, of course, on the verb tenses they've been exposed to, and whether they've worked with COMMAND forms or not).  We then work through the sentence again, following each step as we previously had done.

Finally, I give the students simple sentences containing DIRECT and INDIRECT OBJECTS and ask them to re-write each one, making any DO/IO changes.  I have a few students go to the board and write their changed sentences, which we then correct as a class.  This gives everyone a "visual" to work with as they look at the original sentence on their worksheet and then look on the board for a student's version of the changes needed.  If they seem to have the concept down, I bring out the stuffed animals and have the students pass them around to each other saying, "Te (Le) doy (entrego/regalo/otorgo, etc) el buho (el oso/la vaca/el ratoncito Mickey, etc.)"

And away we go. . . .

Direct Object Pronouns
Direct Object Pronoun
Direct Object Pronoun Paragraph
DO and IO glossary

More DOs and IOs for you        I      II      III      IV      V      VI      VII      VIII