4.3 Personal a

When the direct object of a verb is a human being, the marker a is placed before it. (Often the marker is not used when the direct object is an indefinite person or persons [Buscan alumnos…], but this is not a translation problem). This a is never translated. It is at times also seen before countries, cities, concepts and animals when these are personalized, that is, the speaker feels strongly about them.

 

Mira a Juana. She’s looking at Juana.
Veo a David. I see David.
Dejamos al perro en casa. We’re leaving the dog at home.
Amo a la libertad. I love liberty.
Vamos a visitar a España. We’re going to visit Spain.

At times the personal a distinguishes between the subject and direct object. In the first example below, the personal a indicates the direct object, i.e., “She is waiting for someone.” (“Whom” is the direct object in the first example, and “who” is the subject in the second.) The main point is simply not to translate the a.

No sé a quién espera. I don’t know whom she waits for.
No sé a quién espera. I don’t know who is waiting.

When followed by el, unless part of a proper name, the personal a contracts with it to form al.

¿Ayudas al vecino? Are you helping the neighbor?
No siempre creemos al . We don’t always believe Jacinta.

The preposition a normally precedes an indirect object, and it is often translated as “to,” depending on how the English is rendered:

Voy a mandarle el dinero a mamá. I’m going to send the money to Mom.

I’m going to send Mom the money.

Llevan a Marta a la fiesta. They’re taking Marta to the party.

In very occasional cases, when both a direct and an indirect object are spelled out (not used in pronoun form), the personal a is omitted before the direct object so that the reader can tell which is the direct object and which is the indirect, as word order does not specify that the direct object must always precede the indirect.

Presenta su hija a Rafael. He introduces his daughter to Rafael.

 

Last revised on November 29, 2021.