Lesson 13 - Understanding Sentences: The Role of Verb Objects

 

Introduction
Using Verb Objects to find Sentence Meaning
Exercise 1.
Verb Subjects and Objects
Identifying the object of a verb: the function of prepositions.
Exercise 2
Definition of a Preposition
Defintion of Direct and Indirect Objects

 

Introduction. Given Spanish's flexibility in sentence word order, verb objects require more attention than in English. Identifying them is often a key step in finding the meaning of a sentence, without which one cannot find the subject of the verb..

You cannot tell the function of a noun (or some pronouns) in the sentence by their location relative to the verb. In English, in the sentence "John loves Mary," "John"'s position before the verb tells us that he is the subject, and the location of "Mary" after the verb that she is the object. In Spanish, the sentence *"Juan quiere María," is unintelligible: either Juan or Mar'ia could be the subject or object. In a sentence such as this, a marker word ("a") will be used to identify the object: "Juan quiere a María" or "A María quiere Juan.". Having identified the object, the other noun must be the subject.

Using Verb Objects to find Sentence Meaning

In parsing (understanding) a sentence in Spanish, one starts first by identifying the verb, then the objects, if any, then the subject. When all three have been identified, the meaning of the sentence will be clear.

Some so-called verbs do not function in the sentence as verbs. These are the infinitive and the past and present participles - the forms that do not have person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) or number (singular or plural).

The infinitive (ending in -ar or -er/-ir) fulfills a noun function. A past participle (-ado/-ido) or present participle (-ando/-iendo) fuflils an adjectival function. Neither of them can be the "verb" in a sentence.

To eliminate this confusion, henceforth we will speak of "true verbs," meaning those which have person and number, and which function as verbs.The "True verb" in the sentence will have person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and number (singular or plural).

Exercise 1. In most sentences, it is not hard to find the true verb. Locate it, then translate the following sentences:

  1. Estamos cansados mis padres y yo.
  2. Habíamos llegado antes de las ocho.
  3. Son las ocho.
  4. Ayer hubo un incendio en la facultad.
  5. No queremos trabajar más.

Click here to go to the translations of the sentences above.

Verb Subjects and Objects

The true verb will always guide you, from its person and number, to a potential or definite subject. For example, in sentence 5 above, the verb "queremos" is first person plural, so the subject must be nosotros or nosotras.

However, in many sentences there is more than one possible subject. Example: Juan quiere María. The verb is third person singular. Either "Juan" or "María" could be the subject. The fact that "Juan" precedes the verb; and "María" follows, does not help. The word order does not permit the conclusion you could draw from the equivalent words in English: "John loves Mary."

The verb subject will be clear after you have identified the object(s). Once you identify, and thus remove from consideration, the objects, what is left will be the subject of the verb

Identifying the object of a verb: the function of prepositions.

The sentence of a subject will never be introduced by a preposition. In contrast, all indirect objects and some direct objects are preceded by prepositions. (Click here for a definition of a preposition.) In another words, you can exclude from consideration as subject any word or word combination (such as adjective + noun) preceded by a preposition. Example:

A María quiere Juan. (Since "María" is preceded by a preposition, she is an object; therefore the subject is "Juan.")
Juan regala los chocolates a su madre. (Since "su madre" is preceded by a preposition, it is an object; therefore the subject is "Juan." "Chocolates" can not be the subject because it is plural.)

What does the "a" mean? In the first sentence above, "María" is a direct object. (Click here for a definition of direct and indirect objects.) The "a" before a definite object is not translated. It has no meaning or function other than to identify the direct object and make the sentence structure clear. The translation is thus "Juan loves María."

If the "a" were placed before "Juan" (María quiere a Juan), it would mark "Juan" as the object, therefore the subject would be María: "María loves Juan."

In the second sentence above (Juan regala los chocolates a su madre), "madre" is the indirect object. Prepositions before indirect objects are translated, so this sentence is "Juan gives the chocolates TO his mother."

Exercise 2. Identify the subject and then translate each of the following:

  1. El profesor ve al estudiante.(Remember that "al" is a contraction of the preposition "a" and the article "el.")
  2. Habla a él el director. (The preposition "a" does not combine with the pronoun "él.")
  3. A sus hijos traviesos, los buenos padres castigan.
  4. Para los alumnos buenos, compra helados la maestra. (That the verb is singular tells you that the plural "helados" is not the subject.)
  5. Ve a los trabajadores todos los días.

Click here to go to the translations of the sentences above.


Definition of a preposition.

A preposition is placed before (-pre) something else. They are short words, such as:

a (to)
con (with)
de (from, of)
para (for)
por (for)
según (according to)
sin (without)
sobre (on top of)

For more information on what a direct and indirect objects, see the book English Grammar for Students of Spanish. (Click on the title for ordering information from the on-line bookstore Amazon.com.)


Definitions of Direct and Indirect Objects

Direct Object. The direct object is what the action of the verb falls directly upon: "John kisses his girlfriend." "Girlfriend" is the direct object.
Indirect Object. The action of the verb on the object is indirect: "John gives the flowers to his girlfriend." "Girlfriend" in this sentence is the indirect object. The direct object is "flowers."
A verb may have EITHER a direct or indirect object, OR BOTH. It is the meaning of the verb and the information being expressed that determine this.
For more information on what a direct and indirect objects, see the bookEnglish Grammar for Students of Spanish. (Click on the title for ordering information from the on-line bookstore Amazon.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Translations of the sentences of Exercise 1:

  1. My parents and I are tired.
  2. We had arrived before eight 8'clock. (A number plus a feminine definite article is a time of day.)
  3. It is eight o'clock. (The subject of "son" is "las ocho.")
  4. Yesterday there was a fire in the university building.
  5. We do not want to work more.

Go back to questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Translation of the sentences of Exercise 2:

  1. The professor sees the student.
  2. The director speaks to him.
  3. Good parents punish their naughty children. (Note that "los" is not translated, as is always the case with nouns used in a general or abstract way.)
  4. The teacher buys ice cream for the good students.
  5. He/she/Ud. sees the workers every day.

Go back to questions.

This page Copyright © 1998 Daniel Eisenberg. Please report errors or omissions: daniel.eisenberg@bigfoot.com. ¡Mil gracias!