Personal A in Spanish: How, When to Use (and Not Use) It

Have you ever wondered why some Spanish sentences have an extra a before people or pets and why this word has no English translation? Even though it’s never translated, the personal a in Spanish is required to form complete and accurate sentences. 

Since this is such an important part of Spanish grammar, in this guide, we’ll go over: 

Although the Spanish personal a is not included in translations, it’s a crucial structure you must understand and know how to use. So, let’s get down to business! 

When to Use Personal A in Spanish

In Spanish, the personal ‘a’ consists of placing the preposition a before direct objects that refer to specific people or pets. In other words, you must use personal ‘a’ to indicate the concrete person or animal receiving the verb’s action. 

Here are some sentences: 

[Verb conjugated] + a + (determiner) + [noun]

Buscamos a Luis y a Mary
We’re looking for Luis and Mary

Ayer llevé a mi perro al veterinario. 
Yesterday, I took my dog to the vet. 

¿Por qué dejaste a Cindy sola?
Why did you leave Cindy alone?

Judith está cuidando a la bebé
Judith is watching the baby

The Spanish personal ‘a’ can be followed by proper nouns (names of people or places) or common nouns that refer to specific people or animals. Since these are specific entities, you must use concrete determiners such as possessives and definite articles.

It’s important to note that, when it comes to animals, the personal a in Spanish is not exclusive to pets. In fact, we must use this structure when talking about a specific animal: 

Los niños ven al león
The kids look at the lion

El encargado del zoológico alimenta a las jirafas
The zookeeper feeds the giraffes. 

Check the previous sentences. To simplify pronunciation, the definite article ‘el’ is combined with the ‘personal a’ in Spanish to form the contraction ‘al’

Take Note: Direct objects in Spanish are the receivers of the action in a sentence, you can find these objects by answering the question ‘who?’ or ‘what?’ is being acted upon. 

Graphic explaining what personal a in Spanish is and when to use it

Spanish personal a with pronouns

As you may already know, Spanish pronouns are words we use to replace the noun in a sentence. Some pronouns that work with the personal a are: 

[Personal a] + [pronoun] 

¿A quién estás viendo?
Who are you watching?

Estamos esperando a alguien
We’re waiting for someone

Entiende que Joe la ama a ella
Understand that Joe loves her.

No conozco a nadie que hable chino. 
I don’t know anyone that speaks Chinese. 

Notice that, even when using pronouns, the Spanish personal ‘a’ is still replacing a person working as the direct object of the sentence.

When not to use personal a 

The personal a in Spanish is not required when the direct object refers to a place, thing, or unspecified animal. 

[Verb conjugated] + [determiner]+ [noun]

No conozco este lugar
I don’t know this place

¿Dónde dejaste las llaves?
Where did you leave the keys

Celia está escribiendo una carta
Celia is writing a letter

Ellos quieren un perro pequeño y tranquilo. 
They want a quiet and small dog

Spanish Verbs that Use Personal A

Here is a list of Spanish verbs that use personal a: 

  • Acompañar: To accompany 
  • Admirar: To admire
  • Amar: To love
  • Bañar: To shower
  • Buscar: To look for
  • Conocer: To meet / To know
  • Cuidar: To take care / To watch over
  • Dejar: To leave
  • Empujar: To push
  • Encontrar: To find
  • Engañar: To cheat / To trick 
  • Escuchar: To listen to
  • Esperar: To wait
  • Invitar: To invite
  • Limpiar: To clean
  • Llamar: To call
  • Llevar: To take
  • Peinar: To comb / To brush
  • Querer: To love / To want
  • Saludar: To waive / To greet
  • Ver: To see / To watch
  • Visitar: To visit

Yo quiero mucho a mis papás.
I love my parents very much. 

Mi mamá lleva a los niños a la escuela. 
My mom takes the kids to school. 

Deberías invitar a Paulina y a sus amigas. 
You should invite Paulina and her friends. 

Key Points

Omitting the personal a in Spanish leads to forming incomplete sentences and affects your fluency. Here are some essential points you must keep in mind: 

  • The personal a in Spanish is used in sentences with direct objects. 
  • As its name suggests, the Spanish personal ‘a’ introduces a concrete person or animal who is receiving the action of the verb. 
  • It can be used with common nouns (niño, señora, mamá) as long as they refer to specific people or pets. 
  • The contraction al is the result of combining the preposition ‘a’ with the definite article ‘el’. Use this contraction when the personal ‘a’ is followed by this article. 
  • The personal ‘a’ in Spanish is not used when the direct object refers to places, things, or unknown animals. 
  • Many Spanish transitive verbs use this grammatical element. 

Personal A Spanish Additional Resources

The word ‘a’ is one of the most common Spanish prepositions. In this guide, you learned how to use it with direct objects. However, like other prepositions, it has more useful applications. So, make sure you understand how to use it. Here are your next steps to master this topic. 

Understanding what direct objects are and how to find them is indispensable to mastering the personal a in Spanish. So, click on the previous link to learn more about this topic. Some verbs require a direct object to have meaning. Since some of them work with the personal ‘a’, you should check what Spanish transitive verbs are and how to use them.  

Download the Personal A in Spanish PDF

Grammar topics like the Spanish personal a aren’t always difficult to understand, but can take time to become comfortable with and implement. Feel free to download a copy of the PDF for this guide with all the rules on when to use and not use the personal a as well as examples of how it’s used in Spanish.

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I've been studying Spanish professionally as well as teaching it in Mexico and online for over 10 years. I’ve taught Spanish to a wide array of foreigners from many backgrounds. Over the years, I've made it my mission to work hard on refining many challenging to understand grammar topics to make my students' learning experiences easier, faster and more enjoyable. Read More About Me

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