How to Use the ‘Personal A’ in Spanish: Do’s and Don’ts
When learning a new language, sometimes we expect everything to directly translate into our native language. But languages are complex constructions that don’t always work like that.
This is the case with the “personal A” in Spanish. It has no translation in English. It’s something that exists and makes sense in Spanish but not in your native language.
Think of it as an add-on. Something that you need to learn to keep developing your fluency in Spanish—that has no relation to anything in English.
In this post, you are going to learn what the personal a in Spanish is, how to use it, and when not to use it. A few exercises at the end will give you the opportunity to test this new knowledge.
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What’s the Personal A in Spanish?
To properly understand the personal A in Spanish, you first need to master the concept of a direct object, which is simply the object that directly receives the action of the verb. As in Juan compró un coche (Juan bought a car), the direct object would be un coche (a car).
However, a person can also be a direct object. As in Juan besó a Karla (Juan kissed Karla). And there you can see the subject of this lesson: the personal A in Spanish. If the direct object is a person, it will always be preceded by the preposition a, known as the personal A.
Is there a Personal A in English?
The personal A in Spanish is one of those grammar concepts that have no equivalent in English. Let’s see an example of this to understand why:
Llamé a Mario. – I called Mario.
In English, there is no need to add a preposition between the verb (called) and the subject (Mario). In fact, it would be incorrect to do so. However, it’s important to add this personal A in Spanish, as the sentence would be incorrect without it.
Personal A in Spanish: Do’s and Don’ts
Now it’s time to analyze the different cases where the personal A in Spanish is needed. Then, we’ll explain how to avoid common mistakes while using it.
At this point, it’s important to mention that a is a common preposition in Spanish, which themselves are a hard-to-master concept. It’s most often translated as “to,” but it also has other translations and uses. Just keep in mind that the personal A in Spanish is not like any other a.
How To Use the Personal A in Spanish
Remember that the basic rule of the personal A is that an a precedes the mention of a person or people who are the direct object in the sentence, as in the following examples:
Entiendo a Carlos. – I understand Carlos.
Estoy viendo a mi hija jugar. – I’m watching my daughter playing.
¿Recuerdas a tu tío? – Do you remember your uncle?
Pets, Cars, and Other Things
Back in college, I had a friend who called his car “Betty.” He had a close relationship with that car. Well, “Betty,” even without being a person, would need a personal A in Spanish.
Voy a recoger a Betty del taller. – I’m going to pick up Betty from the auto shop.
This case is obvious because Betty is a human’s name. But I’m sure you won’t forget this case. The point is that any animal, plant, or inanimate thing that is treated as a person or thought of as having personal qualities needs a personal A in Spanish.
Mi padre saca a pasear a Pipo todas las noches. – Mi dad takes Pipo out every night. (Where Pipo is obviously a dog.)
Emma lleva a su perro en el bolso. – Emma carries her dog in her purse.
Even countries and cities are included in this case:
Amo a México. – I love Mexico.
Using Personal A in Questions
When a question will require an answer with a personal A in Spanish, you need to add it in front of the interrogative words quién (who) and cuánto (how much/many) in the question.
¿A quién crees que engañas? – Who do you think you are fooling?
A nadie. – Nobody.
¿A cuántas clases faltaste? – How many classes did you miss?
Falté a cinco clases. – I missed five classes.
Personal A with Pronouns
In Spanish, as in English, it’s common to replace names of people with pronouns. If that’s the case, you need to use a personal A too.
¿Conoces a alguien aquí? – Do you know anyone here?
No tiene a nadie en el mundo. – He has nobody in the world.
When Not To Use the Personal A in Spanish
Now that you know when to use it, let’s focus on the don’ts of the personal A. Because of the wide use of the preposition a in Spanish, it’s easy to make these common mistakes.
Don’t Use the Personal A After the Verb Tener
The Spanish verb tener means “to have,” and it’s one of the most popular verbs in the language. Among its many peculiarities, this verb doesn’t need a personal A.
Tengo dos hermanos. – I have two brothers.
¿Tienes perro? – Do you have a dog?
As an exception to this exception, you do need to use a personal A when using the verb tener as physically holding someone or to have someone somewhere.
Tienes a mi bebé en tus brazos. – You have my baby in your arms.
Tengo a mi hijo en la guardería. – I have my son in kindergarten.
Don’t Use Personal A After the Verb Haber
It doesn’t matter if the direct object is a person, if it comes after the verb haber (there is/there are) no personal A is needed.
Hay mucha gente en el estadio. – There are a lot of people in the stadium.
¿Cuántos alumnos hay en el salón? – How many students there are in the classroom?
Hay diez alumnos. – There are ten students.
Don’t Use the Personal A for Animals and Inanimate Objects
Unless they are treated as people, animals and inanimate objects do not require the personal A. The thing with “Betty” was that my friend gave it the qualities of a person, that’s why it deserved a personal A (hence the term personal). Also, animals that aren’t pets don’t need a personal A either.
Vi un oso. – I saw a bear.
Lavé mi coche por la mañana. – I washed my car in the morning.
Decide if the following sentences are correctly structured in relation to the personal A in Spanish:
|1. ¿Conoces mi novia? Do you know my girlfriend?
|2. Oigo los pájaros. I hear the birds.
|3. Tengo a dos hijas. I have two daughters.
|4. Extraño mucho a España. I miss Spain a lot.
|5. ¿A quién le pagaste? Who did you pay?
|6. No ofendiste nadie. You didn’t offend anybody.
|7. Llevé a Pluto al veterinario. I took Pluto to the vet.
|8. Tiene a su padre en el hospital. He has his father in the hospital.
|9. ¿Hay a alguien aquí? Is there anybody here?
|10. Entiendo a mi hermano. I understand my brother.
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