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Indirect Object Pronouns in Portuguese — Simple ‘n Easy

indirect object pronouns in Portuguese teaser and example

The indirect object pronouns in Portuguese are tricky. Most people use them incorrectly, and many Brazilians don’t like these little words. Why?

Because Brazilians can always resort to alternatives.

And you’re going to learn both the alternatives and the proper indirect object pronouns in Portuguese here.

A Quick Recap — What Are Pronouns?

I talked at length about the pronouns in this article. You can check it out later.

But just so that the two of us are on the same page, let’s recap what a pronoun is.

A pronoun is a little word that stands in for a noun. And a noun is a triad you may have learned from school: people, places, and things.

Eli — me! — is a name, hence a noun. Depending on who is talking, my name can be replaced either by “I” or “he”.

But Eli, I can call you “my friend” — would that be a pronoun too?

No.

Because you can’t call just about anybody “friend” (well, some people can, but those are rare birds I’ve never encountered).

Friend is a noun, just like “Eli”. You can replace any noun with a pronoun.

Now that we got that out of the way, we can move on to the indirect object pronouns in Portuguese.

What Are the Indirect Object Pronouns?

In Portuguese we have five indirect object pronouns.

Subject PronounObject PronounTranslation
eumeto me
você, ele elalheto him, to her, to you
tu*teto you
nósnosto us
vocês, eles, elaslhesto them, to y’all

You’ve probably seen that little asterisk after “tu”.

In time you’ll see what it means. And why it’s important.

Right now, I have a few examples for you.

  • Eu lhe dei um presente de aniversário.I gave him/her a birthday gift.
  • Eu quero lhe escrever uma carta. Qual é seu endereço? I want to write you a letter. What’s your address?
  • Eu lhes contei toda a verdade.I told them all the truth.
  • Vou lhe enviar o e-mail amanhã. Pode ser? I’m going to send you the email tomorrow. Is that okay?

And now we have our first pain point — this “lhe”.

Originally, it means either to him, to her, or to you.

And because you would depend on a lot of context — you would at least have to know the situation in which the speaker utters those sentences — Brazilians don’t like “lhe” much. Instead…

  • Eu dei um presente de aniversário para ele.
  • Eu quero escrever uma carta para você. Qual é seu endereço?
  • Eu contei toda a verdade para eles.
  • Vou enviar o e-mail para você amanhã. Pode ser?

That’s what Mr. José and Mrs. Maria will say to you on the streets.

(Or on a Zoom call.)

Is that wrong?

Not really. If you are preparing for CELPE Bras or want to write more formal correspondence, you want to stick to the proper indirect pronouns in Portuguese.

But in everyday life most people would prefer the forms you just sewing the examples above.

And a few more examples:

  • Ela nos disse que vinha um pouco mais tarde.She told us that she would come a little bit later.
  • Ela não me explicou muito bem. Dava para você me explicar?She didn’t explain it to me very well. Would it be possible for you to explain it to me?
  • Eu vou te contar, mas você não pode contar para mais ninguém.I’m going to tell you, but you can tell it to anybody else.

Remember I told you “tu” was important?

I even added an asterisk to it.

And it’s important for two reasons.

One, Brazilians use “tu” and its corresponding object pronouns quite liberally. And by that, I mean that they mix “te” and “você” sometimes in the same sentence.

And it doesn’t mean that the use the proper conjugation for “tu”.

And if someone uses the proper conjugation of you when talking to me — and this person is not from Portugal — I find it funny.

Funny in the sense that it is odd.

You can see a bit more info on the usage of “tu” in Brazil here.

So, let’s take a look at the examples below.

  • Você não sabe o que aconteceu? Eu posso te contar agora!Don’t you know what happened? I can tell you now!
  • Eu não vou te dar nada. Você já comeu o bastante. I am not going to give you anything. You’ve eaten enough.

As you see, in the examples the speaker is mixing both “te” and “você”. A rigor (which means, “as a rule”), it shouldn’t happen. And when writing, you should avoid it at all times. But in speaking, it does no harm.

And one quick thing about the word order in sentences with the indirect object pronouns in Portuguese.

Whenever you have both a direct object and an indirect object in a sentence — and they are not pronouns — the direct object comes first.

  • Dei o presente ao Ricardo. I gave the gift to Ricardo.

That’s the opposite of what you have in English.

But whenever you have one pronoun, it should come first.

  • Dei-lhe o presente. I gave him the gift.
  • Dei-o ao Ricardo. I gave it to Ricardo.

And if you are into reading classical literature — unadapted texts unlike the Classics collection that we have here — you might come across the following form.

  • Dei-lho. I gave it to him.

It’s not really used in modern Portuguese anymore, but it’s good to know it’s there.

Main Takeaways

I know that Brazilians tend to avoid the indirect object pronoun “lhe” because it has three meanings — to him, to her, to you.

I am aware that Brazilians tend to mix the pronouns “te” (indirect object) and “lhe” (indirect object) when talking about “você” (subject).

And a Quick Bonus – Common Verbs that Require an Indirect Object in Portuguese

The following verbs usually require an indirect object.

  • Ensinar (to teach)
  • Ligar / telefonar (to call, to telephone)
  • Explicar (to explain)
  • Dar (to give)
  • Mandar / enviar (to send)
  • Recomendar (to recommend)
  • Sugerir (to suggest)
  • Dizer (to say, to tell)

And that’s all.

Now you know more than 80% of Brazilians.

And I’m not kidding.

If you want to dive even deeper and review our article about direct object pronouns, you can check it out here.

If you need more grammar help, you can always go to our grammar section. It’s full of articles and it’s updated regularly.

And if the verb tenses are a pain in the neck for you, you might want to check out our free guide Why So Tense.

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