HomeQ&ASingular or plural IO pronouns

Singular or plural IO pronouns


In a recorded teaching series is the following dialogue:

Instructor: Ahora pregunta “When you used to work in the school, did you have to teach the children?”

María: Cuando trabajabas en la escuela, tú tenías que enseñarle a los niños? Tenías que. Cuando tú trabajabas en la escuela, tenías que enseñarle a los niños?

Instructor: Responde “Yes, I had to teach the children”.

René: Sí, tenía que enseñarle a los niños.

Instructor: Pregunta “What did you used to have to teach the children?”.

María: ¿Qué tenías que enseñarle a los niños? A los niños.

Instructor: Responde “I used to have to teach them the Spanish lesson”.

René: Yo tenía que enseñarles la lección de español. Les. Enseñarles.

I'm not understanding why it was ever le, as throughout the dialogue the IO pronoun always refers to a plural noun, los niños*. Yet it is repeated as **le several times, both in the recorded material and in the text. This is no typo.

Then they very purposefully make the switch from le to les.

What's up with that? Can anyone explain the difference?

updated JUN 1, 2012
posted by Goyo
I'm waiting with you for the answer to this one. - Delores--Lindsey, JUN 12, 2010

4 Answers


Have you read these explanations?

My first reaction upon reading your post was similar to the one about this was a leísmo. I thought the remark about the "a" being a "personal a" rather than part of a clarification tag quite clever.

updated JUN 13, 2010
edited by 0074b507
posted by 0074b507
In the explanation you posted, it's a pretty sure bet they were talking about the same CDs I am using. Thank you., Q. - Goyo, JUN 13, 2010

It's simply wrong.

updated JUN 13, 2010
posted by samdie
Exactly! - 005faa61, JUN 12, 2010

From the page that Quentin linked to:

Sí, debería ser "enseñarles".

"A menudo, cuando el pronombre átono de dativo concurre en la oración con el complemento indirecto preposicional, se utiliza el singular le, aunque el referente sea plural; esta discordancia está extendida tanto en España como en América, incluso entre hablantes cultos, por lo que son frecuentes, aunque normativamente desaconsejables, oraciones como *"Colombia LE propuso A LOS GOBIERNOS de Estados Unidos y Venezuela una alianza" (Tiempo [Col.] 18.4.97). En el uso esmerado se recomienda mantener la concordancia de número entre el pronombre átono y el sustantivo al que se refiere: «Los mismos remedios de distracción que les daba a sus enfermos» (GaMárquez Amor [Col. 1985]).

So it's technically a use of bad grammar, as I felt from the beginning, and as Samdie and Julian pointed out.

But apparently this particular incorrect use is common in the vernacular. And with this particular CD set, it's not surprising that they would include something like that. (Though an explanation would have been nice.)

Thanks guys!

updated JUN 13, 2010
posted by Goyo

In a recorded teaching series is the following dialogue (...)

In case of spoken Spanish: very often the "s" are dropped or they are pronounced in a form of aspiration, characteristic to many South American countries (e.g. Argentina, Cuba or Dominicana). But the proper form should be les (plural): enseñarles (in my opinion, there may be a mistake in the transcript).

In Peninsular Spanish it's possible to replace the masculine direct object pronoun lo referring to a person with le (similarly los with les), e.g.

Veo a Miguel. Lo veo. Le veo.

Veo a los niños. Los veo. Les veo.

updated JUN 13, 2010
edited by Issabela
posted by Issabela
He explained that it was written that way in the text also, so it was not a pronunciation problem. - 0074b507, JUN 12, 2010
I know, I just pointed it out, as some people are (at first) a bit surprised with the missing "s". - Issabela, JUN 12, 2010
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