Spanish Grammar: The Personal "a"

The direct object in a a sentence is the noun (or pronoun) that receives the action of the verb. In the sentence "Juan kicked the ball" the direct object is "ball" since it receives the action of the verb "kicked". In Spanish, whenever a direct object is a (1) person or (2) domesticated animal, such as a pet, to which the speaker attaches personal feelings, the direct object is preceded by the preposition "a" – or Personal "a". It is also used with certain pronouns.

Person or Persons

In Spanish, whenever a direct object is a person, the direct object is preceded by the preposition "a" – or Personal "a". Consider the following examples.

Juan calls María.
Juan llama a María.
Veronica hit Juan.
Veronica golpeó a Juan.
Juan calls his sister.
Juan llama a su hermana.
I see my mother.
Veo a mi madre.
I see three girls who are my sisters.
Veo a tres personas que son mis hermanas.

Pets as Persons

The personal "a" precedes the direct object when the direct object is an animal (usually a pet) to which the speaker attaches personal feelings. Review the following examples.

María pets her cat.
María acaricia a su gato.
The dog chases the cat.
El perro persigue a la gata.

Indefinite Pronouns about People

The personal "a" is also used with certain indefinite pronouns, which include:

  • Alguien (somebody/someone/anyone)
  • Nadie (nobody/no-one)
  • Quién (who/whom)
  • Alguno (some) in reference to people
  • Ninguno (none) in reference to people
  • Cualquiera (any) in reference to people

Consider the following examples.

I see someone I live with.
Yo veo a alguien con quien vivo.
You don't see someone who you know?
¿Tú no ves a nadie que conozcas?
I don't see one person I know.
No veo a ninguna persona que conozca.

Exceptions

The personal "a" is not used (1) when the direct object is a person or animal for which the speaker has no personal feelings, (2) after the verb "tener" or verb form "hay", or (3) when the direct object is an indefinite person. Consider the following examples.

I look at the cow.
Miro la vaca.
She has three sisters.
Ella tiene tres hermanas.
There are ten boys.
Hay diez chicos.
I need a doctor.
Necesito médico.
I need a mechanic.
Necesito mecánico.