Concise Guide To The Spanish Personal A

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In Spanish, certain kinds of noun and pronoun must be preceded by a when they are the Direct Object of a verb. This happens:

When the Direct Object represents a known human being or animal:

  • Vi a Antonio. I saw Antonio.
  • Admiro a ese profesor. / admire that teacher.
  • Llama al camarero. Call the waiter.
  • Conozco a alguien que sabe chino. I know someone who knows Chinese.
  • Arrestaron al narcotraficante. They arrested the drug-pusher.
  • Criticaron al gobierno. They criticized the government. (collective noun standing for known human beings)
  • Voy a lavar al perro. I’m going to wash the dog.

Compare voy a lavar el coche I’m going to wash the car - never ‘... al coche’ since the car is non-human. In the case of an unknown human being or animal, a is usually omitted; the more impersonal the object the less likely is the use of a:

  • Vi (a) un hombre en la calle. I saw a man in the road.
  • Odio las serpientes. I hate snakes.

The personal a is also used In those cases in which word order does not make it clear which is the object and which is the subject of the verb. This usually happens in Relative Clauses where the word order is usually Verb-Subject:

  • una medida que afecta al problema a measure that affects the problem (since... que afecta el problema could mean either... that affects the problem or... that the problem affects)
  • Se llamaba al director “Maxi”. People called the director Maxi (Impersonal se. The a avoids confusion with... se llamaba Maxi the director’s name was Maxi)

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