Object Pronouns

Romance pronouns have distinct object forms corresponding to Latin accusative and dative cases. Like subject pronouns, these object pronouns carry information about person, number and, in some cases, gender and politeness. The modern languages use small object pronouns alongside a verb when the pronouns act as a direct (accusative) or indirect (dative) object of that verb. Languages employ a different set of emphatic or strong object pronouns when the pronoun is the object of a preposition like for me.

Direct Object Pronouns

The Romance verb takes object pronouns that sit near and are pronounced together with it. When the Romance verb takes a direct object, a direct object pronoun is normally placed to the left of the verb: Romansh el ma vesa, Italian (lui) mi vede, Romanian (el) mă vede he sees me. Direct object pronouns contain information about person and number just like subject pronouns: Spanish me ve he sees me (singular) versus nos ve sees us (plural), me ve sees me (first person) versus te ve sees you (second person). Third-person object pronouns derive from Vulgar Latin *illu and *illa, the accusative forms of *ille he and *illa she. These distinguish between masculine and feminine gender: Italian lo vedo I see him versus la vedo I see her, and li vedo I see them versus le vedo I see them (all females).

Languages that use third-person subjects to address a second person politely do the same with third-person objects: Spanish Usted ve you (formal) see corresponds to lo ve I see you (formal), which, depending on context, also means I see him. Likewise, languages that use second-person plural subjects to address someone politely use second-person plural objects for the same purpose. For instance, the subject of French vous voyez you (formal) see corresponds to the object of je vous vois I see you (formal).

Crucially, generic third-person subjects do not always relate to a third-person object pronoun. For example, the French subject on one/we corresponds to the first-person object nous in il nous voit and not the third-person le in *il le voit for he sees us.

The Romance grammar tables contain a comparison of direct object pronouns across the Romance languages. Also, the guide to the syntax of verbs with pronouns explores the placement of object pronouns around the verb.

Indirect Object Pronouns

The Romance languages treat objects directly impacted by the verb differently than objects removed from the verb’s action, like the direct object him in I saw him versus the indirect to him in I gave it to him. Like direct objects, indirect object pronouns sit near and are pronounced together with the verb: Italian la vedo I see her (direct) versus gli dico I say to her (indirect).

The first-person and second-person indirect object pronouns are identical to their direct object forms: Spanish me ve sees me and me dice says to me, Italian ti vede sees you and ti dice says to you. Third-person direct objects come from *illi, the dative of both *ille he and *illa she: Vulgar Latin *illi dico, Italian gli dico, Spanish le digo I say [to] him/her. Corresponding plurals exist: Vulgar Latin *illis dico, Romanian le zic, Spanish les digo I say [to] them. French uses the dative form *illui to him / to her instead: French je lui dis I say to him/her. French also inherits the genitive plural *illoru of them as an indirect object meaning to them: French je leur dis I say to them.

The choice between direct and indirect objects is based on the verb’s meaning, and does not necessarily match English: Spanish lo espero I wait for him (direct in Romance, indirect in English) versus le ruego I ask him (indirect in Romance, direct in English). The third-person direct object pronouns do not mark masculine or feminine gender: Spanish le doy el libro I give the book to her, where le can represent to him, to her or to it, or plural les doy el libro I give the book to them, where les represents they in any gender.

Uniquely, the Romanian languages continue to distinguish between direct (accusative case) and indirect (genitive/dative case) objects in nearly all persons and numbers: Romanian mă vede he sees me but îmi zice he says to me.

Italian restaurant menu board

Daily menu for an Italian restaurant. Italians inherit *illu as a direct object pronoun in lo servono (“[they] serve it”). Compare the phrase gli servono (“[they] serve you”), which uses *illi as a polite indirect object pronoun.

As with direct object pronouns, whenever a language contains polite forms of address for subject pronouns, corresponding object pronouns exist: the subject of Spanish Usted dice you (formal) say corresponds to the indirect object of le digo I say to you (formal), and the subject of French vous parlez you (formal) speak corresponds to the object of je vous parle I speak to you (polite).

The Romance grammar tables contain a comparison of indirect object pronouns in representative Romance languages. Also, the sentence structure guide explores the placement of object pronouns around the verb.

Reflexive Object Pronouns

The set of reflexive pronouns looks and works like direct or indirect object pronouns in Romance, but with a critical difference: reflexives have the same person and number as the subject of the verb. In other words, speakers use reflexive objects when the subject and the object of a verb are identical: Romansh jau ma lav I wash myself, French il se lave he washes himself, Romanian ne spălam we wash ourselves. Like indirect object pronouns, the only surface difference between reflexives and other object pronouns exists in the third-person forms. The third-person reflexive pronoun comes from Latin *se in all languages.

The reflexive pronouns can represent either direct or indirect reflexive objects in most of Romance without any difference in form: Spanish él se da cuenta he realizes (he gives to-himself account, with an indirect object) versus él se lava he washes himself (direct object). Uniquely, Romanian reflexive pronouns distinguish direct objects from indirect objects: el își dă seama he remembers (literally he gives to-himself account, with an indirect object pronoun) versus el se spală he washes himself (direct object).

The bond between reflexive pronouns and verbs expressing a reflexive action is tight in Romance. Romance reflexive verbs always take a reflexive pronoun: French je me rase but never just *je rase for I shave (myself), as French je rase expects some object. Romance languages express reflexivity whenever possible, and many verbs that are reflexive in Romance have no corresponding reflexive form in English: Italian ti senti bene you feel well (literally [you] feel yourself well). The next table compares verbs with reflexive and non-reflexive objects in selected languages.

Spanish Romansh Sardinian Romanian translation
direct object lo lava el al lava lu samunat îl spală he washes it
reflexive direct object se lava el sa lava si samunat se spală he washes himself
indirect object lo da el al dat lu dat îl dă he gives it
reflexive indirect object se da el sa dat si dat își dă he gives himself

Languages with a generic third-person pronoun use the third-person reflexive pronoun *se rather than first-person *nos: French on se lave has the reflexive meaning we wash ourselves, while on nous lave means one washes us / we are being washed.

The Romance grammar tables compare reflexive object pronouns across the languages. The introduction to sentence structure explores the placement of object pronouns around the verb.

Strong Object Pronouns

Languages also have stressed object pronouns that do not revolve around the verb, like English me in for me. These strong object pronouns are most often found after prepositions: Spanish para mí for me instead of the standard "weak" object pronoun *para me. A few languages allow strong objects in isolation or to repeat the subject for emphasis: French moi? me? or moi, je chante I am singing versus Spanish ¿yo? but not *¿mí? for me? and canto yo but not *mí yo canto for I (emphatic) am singing.

The majority of these strong object pronouns coincide with subject pronouns: Spanish ella canta, Italian lei canta she sings and Spanish para ella, Italian per lei for her. However, the first and second-person singular strong object pronouns are usually different: Italian io canto, Romanian eu cânt I sing versus Italian per me, Romanian pentru mine for me.

As mentioned, strong objects are usually found after non-verb words, particularly prepositions. Swiss Romance languages allow strong objects to follow a verb as well: Rumantsch Grischun jau ves tai (strong object pronoun) and jau ta ves (with a weak direct object pronoun) both mean I see you, and per tai means for you.

Prepositional phrases can reinforce or emphasize the indirect object: Spanish a él le gusta he (emphatic) likes it (literally to him to-him pleases). Languages with a personal accusative construction also use prepositional phrases to mark a direct object: Ladin veder ad el to see him, or Spanish la vemos a ella, Romanian o vedem pe ea we see HER (literally her we-see to her).

The Romance grammar tables include a comparison of these strong prepositional object pronouns across various languages.

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