What is the Personal A in Spanish?

personal a in spanish

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You could argue that a is the most important vowel in the Spanish language, and anyone who has studied Spanish, even briefly, will know how diverse this letter is.

For example:

  • I see my mom – Veo a mi mamá
  • I’m going to eat – Voy a comer
  • I like coffee – A mí me gusta el café

As you can already see, the letter a in Spanish has many different uses.

What may confuse some students is that the use of a as it relates to personal a in Spanish is one of those grammar rules that is unique to the Spanish language, and has no equivalent in English.

The importance of knowing this rule cannot be understated, and so in this post, we’ll explain six different ways to use it.

Recommended: How to Learn Spanish Fast in 2021

What is the personal a in Spanish?

The personal a is a preposition that we use when the direct object of a sentence is a person or animal, more specifically a pet. In other words, the personal a is how we indicate who is receiving the action of a verb.

5 ways to use the personal a

1. To indicate that the object of a verb is a person

This one is quite simple.

Simply place the personal a before the person receiving the object of the verb.

For example:

  • I can’t see my mom – No puedo ver a mi mamá
  • I’m gonna give my friend this gift – Voy a darle este regalo a mi amiga

If, for example, the object of a verb was another object, then we wouldn’t use the personal a.

  • I see the plane land – Veo el avión aterrizar

2. Use it when the direct object is also an animal, specifically a pet

The personal a also works in the same way when referring to an animal, and more specifically a pet.

  • Let me feed Whiskers (“Bigotes” in Spanish) and I’ll be ready – Déjame alimentar a Bigotes y estaré lista
  • Today I met my boyfriend’s dogs – Hoy conocí a los perros de mi novio
  • Call the cat, it’s time for its medicine – Llama al gato, es hora de su medicina

Sidenote: in the last example, al is the contraction of a + the article el. If you’re unsure about contractions, make sure to read our Spanish Articles 101: post.

3. When there is more than one person or animal

When talking about more than one person/animal, we need to use the personal a before each name.

In fact, even when there’s no name at all, you still need to use the a, as long as you are talking about specific people/animals.

  • I can’t see Patricia or Gabriel – No puedo ver a Patricia o a Gabriel
  • She misses her parents a lot – Ella extraña mucho a sus padres
  • He takes good care of his dogs and cats – Él cuida mucho a sus perros y a sus gatos

If you wanted to reference nonspecific people, then it would look something like this:

  • She wants a kid – Ella quiere un hijo

The same rules apply when talking about pets:

  • We love our cats – Nosotros amamos a nuestros gatos
  • We love cats – Nosotros amamos los gatos

4. With personified nouns

You may be aware of a concept called personified nouns (prosopopeya), which basically means giving human characteristics to plants, animals, as well as giving “life” to inanimate objects and even ideas and concepts.

In Spanish, there is one personified noun that requires the personal a, and that is when talking about death.

  • It is common for people to fear death – Es común que las personas le tengan miedo a la muerte
  • Grandma said she once saw death – La abuela dijo que una vez vió a la muerte

5. With pronouns that replaces people

The personal a precedes the pronouns alguien (someone) and nadie (No one) that replace people.

  • I heard someone calling you – Oí a alguien llamándote
  • It didn’t occur to anyone to call the supervisor – A nadie se le ocurrió llamar al supervisor
  • Do you want me to call someone for you? – ¿Quieres que llame a alguien por ti?
  • Why don’t you want to see anyone? – ¿Por qué no quieres ver a nadie?

6. Before question words, and subsequent answers

Finally, when asking questions like ¿cuánto? (how much?), ¿quién? (who?), ¿cuál? (Which one?), and also when giving answers to those questions:

  • Question: How many people have you told? -¿A cuántas personas les has contado?
  • Answer: To you and my mom – A ti y a mi mamá
  • Question: Who did you call? – ¿ A quién llamaste?
  • Answer: To the police – A la policía
  • Question: How many friends will you invite to your party? – ¿A cuántos amigos invitarás a tu fiesta?
  • Answer: I think I’m going to invite everyone – Creo que voy a invitar a todos
  • Question: Which historical character would you like to meet? – ¿A cuál personaje histórico te gustaría conocer?
  • Answer: Joan of Arc and Frida Khalo – A Juana de Arco y a Frida Khalo
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