The Personal A in Spanish: What It Is and When to Use It (2023)

The Personal A in Spanish: What It Is and When to Use It (1)

By hannahgreenwald Last updated:

In Spanish, a simple little word like acan mean many different things.

But one of the most important uses of the Spanish word a—and perhaps one of the trickiest—is the personal a.

To an English speaker, this a feels superfluous. But in Spanish, it’s very important!

Read on to learn the ins and outs of the Spanish personal a.


  • What Is the Personal A?
  • When Not to Use the PersonalA
    • Don’t use it when the direct object is an animal (unless it’s a pet).
    • Don’t use it when using the verbs tener (to have) or haber (there is/there are).
  • How to Practice the Personal A
    • 1. Listen to native speakers.
    • 2. Practice online.
    • 3. Memorize Spanish phrases.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

What Is the Personal A?

Spanish and English are similar in many ways, but the personal a is one example of a Spanish grammar rule that has no English equivalent.

The personal a is a preposition that we use when the direct object of a sentence is a person.

Confused? A simple sentence will help clarify the usage of the personal a in Spanish. Let’s take the following sentence in English:

I see Sonia.

Sonia is the direct object of the sentence. (To review, the direct object of a sentence is the “recipient” of the verb in the sentence.) Since Sonia is a person, when we translate this sentence into Spanish, we would write it like this:

Yo veo a Sonia.

There’s no direct translation for the personal a into English. You simply have to remember that in Spanish, when the direct object of the sentence is a human being, you must insert an a between the verb and the direct object.

The personal a is used exactly the same whether you’re talking about one person or multiple people:

(Video) The Personal A in Spanish - How to Use It & When to Use It

Yo veo a ellas. (I see them.)

When the direct object is a person but the person’s name or title begins with el, you can contract a + el to make al. For example:

La mujer llama al doctor. (The woman calls the [male] doctor.)

Since “the doctor” is el doctor, a + el can contract to form al.

In contrast, when we use the feminine articlelafor a female doctor,there’s no need to form a contraction:

La mujer llamaa la doctora.(The woman calls the [female] doctor.)

It’s important to note that the personal a is different from other usages of the prepositiona in Spanish. (As a quick refresher, a preposition is a word that links nouns and pronouns to other words in a sentence. Some examples of English prepositions would be to, on, through, about, with, etc.)

The Spanish prepositionahas a few different uses. Frequently, it’s used like theEnglish word “to.” Take the sentence Yo voy a la playa (I go to the beach). Here, we’re not using the personal a. We’re simply using the preposition a, meaning “to.”

You may also seea used with verbs like gustar and encantar, such as in the phrase:

A mí me gusta la pizza. (I like pizza.)

Check out this article on verbs like gustar for more information.

Me Gusta! 14 Spanish Verbs That Copycat Gustar’s Style of Conjugation | FluentU Spanish Blog

(Video) Spanish Personal A/ When To Use Personal 'A'?/ Spanish Lesson #11

Don’t let these Spanish verbs like “gustar” catch you off guard. See how to use the tricky “gustar” (to like, to be pleasing) correctly. Then, become familiar with 14…

When Not to Use the PersonalA

There are a couple of exceptions to the personal a usage rule explained above. Here are a few instances when you should avoid using the personal a.

Don’t use it when the direct object is an inanimate object.

This preposition is called the personal a because we only use it when referring to human beings! With any other direct object, it’s totally superfluous. Compare these two sentences:

Yo veo a una chica. (I see a girl.)

Yo veo una hamburguesa. (I see a hamburger.)

In the second sentence, since the direct object is an inanimate object (a hamburger), there’s no need for the personal a.

Don’t use it when the direct object is an animal (unless it’s a pet).

Generally speaking, it’s unnecessary to use the personal a when the direct object of the sentence is an animal.

For example, the sentence “I hear a snake” would be translated as:Yo oigo un serpiente, with no need for a personal a.

However, if the animal in question is a pet—or some other animal about whom the speaker has personal feelings—you may use the personal a.

Ella llama a su perro. (She calls her dog.)

Don’t use it when using the verbs tener (to have) or haber (there is/there are).

Even if the direct object is a person, you don’t need to use the personal a if the direct object comes after the verbs tener or haber.

For example:

Yo tengo dos hermanos. (I have two brothers.)

Hay 20 estudiantes en la clase. (There are twenty students in the class.)

How to Practice the Personal A

It can be especially difficult to hack Spanish grammar concepts that have no direct translation into English. So, in the case of the personal a, it’s super important to practice, practice, practice until it simply comes naturally to you. Luckily, there are many different ways to do this!

(Video) The Personal "A" of Spanish - How and When to Use it?

1. Listen to native speakers.

As with many aspects of Spanish language learning, one of the absolute best ways to master the Spanish personala is to listen to and imitate native speakers. If you spend enough time listening to the speech patterns of native Spanish speakers, at some point the personal a will just begin to sound natural to you, too!

There are many ways to listen to (and converse with) native speakers. Consider setting up anonline language exchange, find an entertaining TV showin Spanish or—my personal favorite—tune in to a daily Spanish radio show and listen along.

To listen to native speakers in various types of authentic, everyday content—such as music videos, commercials and inspiring talks—you can use FluentU. This immersion program has hundreds of authentic Spanish videos for any level, so you can find the right videos for you.

As you watch, you can listen out for the personal a, or you can search for it to see a flashcard as well as videos where it appears. You can also see common phrases where it appears, which can also be incredibly useful to know.

In my opinion, face-to-face language exchanges can be a great way to increase your Spanish fluency. Two of my favorite free resources for finding local conversation partners are Meetup, which can help you find Spanish exchange groups in your area, and Conversation Exchange, which can help you connect with other language learners for one-on-one practice.

2. Practice online.

If you want some more targeted grammar practice, there are many resources around the web to help you practice the personal a. features four quizzes on the personal a, so you can make sure you’re understanding the concept. If you still want more practice, you can check outthis quiz on

Or maybe you’re more of an audio learner? The Spanish Dude has a great video on the personal a, which comes with a worksheet (and answer key!) to help you understand this grammar concept.

3. Memorize Spanish phrases.

I love learning Spanish refranes (sayings). They are one of my favorite ways to practice Spanish grammar because they also give me a window into Spanish-speaking cultures. Plus, some of them can be quite poetic, which means that figuring out their true meaning is a bit like deciphering a puzzle!

Once you commit a Spanish saying to memory, you can use it to remind yourself about key grammatical concepts. Luckily, there are many Spanish refranes that make use of the personal a. Here are a few:

Amor no respeta ley, ni obedece al rey.

Translation: Love does not respect the law, nor does it obey the king.

Meaning: Love conquers all; love is irrational.

Notice how when the direct object is ley (law), there’s no personal a, but when the direct object is el rey, a personal a is added to form the contraction al.

El que roba a un ladrón tiene cien años de perdón.

(Video) PERSONAL A in Spanish

Translation: He who steals from a thief has one hundred years of forgiveness.

Meaning: If you do something mean to a person who isn’t nice, your mean action will be forgiven.

Haz bien sin mirar a quién.

Translation: Do good without looking at whom.

Meaning: Do good things, regardless of whether or not others will be aware that you’re doing them.

En las malas se conocen a los amigos.

Translation: In bad times, friends are known.

Meaning: We only know who our true friends are when things are going wrong.

Un grano no hace granero, pero ayuda al compañero.

Translation: One grain doesn’t make a granary, but it can help a friend.

Meaning: Little things might seem unimportant, but every little bit can make a difference in some way.

These five phrases are great examples of the usage of the personal a. If you commit them to memory, they can help you remember to add a when your direct object is a person.

Hopefully, this article has helped clarify a somewhat tricky vocabulary concept for English-speaking students of Spanish.

Now that you’ve learned about the personal a, you’re going to start noticing it being used everywhere—and you’ll be able to work it into your own Spanish as well!

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

(Video) The Personal A in Spanish


How do you know when to use 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.

What is a personal A in Spanish example? ›

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.

What is the personal A in Spanish practice? ›

In Spanish, when the direct object is a person, it is preceded by the preposition “a.” This word has no English translation. Jorge llama a María. Jorge calls María. From the perspective of the English speaker, the personal “a” appears to be an extra word.

What is the A in Spanish for? ›

The Spanish preposition "a" is often thought of as the equivalent of "to"—but in fact, it has far more uses. "A" can also be the equivalent of "on," "at," "from," "by" or "in." In many cases, it is not translated at all.

Do you put an A in front of le gusta? ›

“a” must go before the person or persons. Also, the personal “a” is used if the actual pronoun (él, ella, nosotros, etc) is used. Example: Christina likes to go to the beach. Spanish: A Christina le gusta ir a la playa.

Why do you start a Spanish sentence with a? ›

A is a preposition in Spanish. So it is always going to be part of a complement (direct, indirect, circunstancial, etc). So if in the sentence the complement is at the beginning, you can use “a”.

What is the article A in Spanish? ›

In Spanish, the definite article (the) = el, la, los or las. Choose the one that matches the noun's gender and number. In Spanish, the singular indefinite articles (a, an) = un or una. Choose the one that matches the noun's gender. In Spanish, the plural indefinite article some = unos or unas.

What are the Spanish verbs that a used with a? ›

Verbs + a + infinitive
acertar ato manage to
limitarse ato limit oneself to
llegar ato manage to, succeed in, end up
llegar a serto become
llevar ato lead to
39 more rows

Is the personal a preposition? ›

Known as the personal a, the short preposition is used to precede direct objects when those objects are people.

Why do you put a in front of Spanish? ›

a is often used to talk about the manner in which something is done. al followed by the infinitive in Spanish is equivalent to when in English we say on doing something or when we do something. In Spanish, when the direct object of a verb is a specific person or pet animal, a is placed immediately before it.

Should we use personal A before collective noun Spanish? ›

The personal a is usually not used after the verb tener, with collective nouns, or with nouns referring to unspecified people. Tengo dos hermanos.

How do you pronounce á in Spanish? ›

Spanish. In Spanish, á is an accented letter, pronounced just the way a is. Both á and a sound like /a/. The accent indicates the stressed syllable in words with irregular stress patterns.

Where do I use a? ›

The rule is that you use “a” before words that start with a consonant sound and “an” before words that start with a vowel sound.

What is the use of a? ›

Generally speaking, à means "to," "at," or "in," while de means "of" or "from." Both prepositions have numerous uses and to understand each better, it is best to compare them. Learn more about the preposition de. Learn more about the preposition à.

What is the a with a symbol above it? ›

Â, â (a-circumflex) is a letter of the Inari Sami, Skolt Sami, Romanian, and Vietnamese alphabets. This letter also appears in French, Friulian, Frisian, Portuguese, Turkish, Walloon, and Welsh languages as a variant of the letter "a".

Is it A or à? ›

But here is a helpful way of learning the difference between à and a. 'a' is a conjugated form of the verb 'avoir' e.g. il a un bateau (He has a boat)'à' is commonly used as a preposition. Its meaning varies depending on the sentence. It can mean at, in, or to.

Do you have to say a Mi before me gusta? ›

Sometimes we have the prepositional phrase A + mí (or tí etc.) before “me gusta“. This is used to give more emphasis that the person likes something and to make it clear who that person is.

Do you put a or an before the given words? ›

The rule is: Use an before a word beginning with a vowel sound (not letter). It doesn't matter how the word is spelled. It just matters how it is pronounced. Use a before a word with a consonant sound as well as y and w sounds.

Is it OK to start a sentence with the letter a? ›

You can start a sentence, essay or paragraph with any word that makes sense. The majority of English sentences begin with either a/an/the, a name or a personal pronoun.

What is the letter a in a sentence? ›

It can either be used as an indefinite article, a noun, a verb, or a preposition. The word “a” is categorized under indefinite articles because it is used to mention a singular noun that is unspecified. In the sample sentence below: It was taken by a man in the basement.

What do the articles a and an mean? ›

A/an and the: meaning

A/an and the are articles. They are a type of determiner and they go before a noun. A/an before a noun shows that what is referred to is not already known to the speaker, listener, writer and/or reader (it is the indefinite article): Do you have a car?

How do you get an A in Spanish? ›

10 Tips for Studying Spanish
  1. Ask your teacher questions when you don't understand. ...
  2. Teach a concept to a classmate. ...
  3. Study a section of vocabulary every day. ...
  4. Treat every class exercise like a Spanish quiz. ...
  5. Write down grammar concepts and examples on index cards. ...
  6. Mimic your teacher's Spanish accent and other natives speakers'
Nov 30, 2021

What is the plural of a in Spanish? ›

To form the plural in Spanish, add -s to most nouns ending in a vowel (a, e, i, o or u) which doesn't have an accent.

What is a verb for the letter A? ›

English Verbs Starting with A
VerbSimple PastPast Participle
to accompanyaccompaniedaccompanied
to accomplishaccomplishedaccomplished
to accostaccostedaccosted
to accountaccountedaccounted
96 more rows

What are the 3 Spanish verbs? ›

First things first: there are three classes of Spanish verbs: -ar verbs, -er verbs, and -ir verbs. These are the infinitive verb endings (or dictionary form of the verb).

How do you know which indefinite article to use in Spanish? ›

What is the indefinite article in Spanish? - Easy Learning Grammar Spanish
  1. un is used before masculine singular nouns. ...
  2. una is used before feminine singular nouns. ...
  3. unos is used before masculine plural nouns. ...
  4. unas is used before feminine plural nouns.

Do we need to use a personal pronoun in every Spanish sentence? ›

We don't always use personal pronouns in Spanish because it's implicit in the verb. As simple as that! In Spanish, we conjugate the verbs according to each pronoun. Thus, when constructing a sentence and having a conversation, it is pretty easy to identify to whom we are referring just by how the verb is conjugated.

What Spanish verbs need an A after them? ›

Verbs + a + infinitive
acertar ato manage to
limitarse ato limit oneself to
llegar ato manage to, succeed in, end up
llegar a serto become
llevar ato lead to
39 more rows

When to use a or an before a noun? ›

Use a before nouns that begin with a consonant sound, and use an before nouns that begin with a vowel sound. Use the article a or an to indicate any non-specified member of a group or category.

What are the 4 indefinite articles? ›

There are three indefinite articles in English – two for the singular form (a, an) and one for the plural form (some).

What are the 4 types of articles in Spanish? ›

In Spanish, you have to choose between four definite articles: el, la, los and las. Which one you choose depends on the noun which follows.In Spanish, all nouns (including words for things) are either masculine or feminine – this is called their gender and they can also be either singular or plural.

How do you tell if a word is masculine or feminine in Spanish? ›

Masculine nouns are used with articles like el or un and have adjectives that end in -o, while female nouns use the articles la or una and have adjectives that end in -a. To know if a noun is masculine or feminine, you should look to see what letter(s) the word ends with.

What is the rule of personal pronoun? ›

A pronoun takes the place of a specific noun. Examples of pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, them, hers, his, who, whom, whose, which etc. The original noun which the pronoun replaces is called the antecedent.

How do you use personal pronouns correctly? ›

RULE: Pronouns have three cases: nominative (I, you, he, she, it, they), possessive (my, your, his, her, their), and objective (me, him, her, him, us, them). Use the nominative case when the pronoun is the subject of your sentence, and remember the rule of manners: always put the other person's name first!

Do you use the personal A for direct object pronouns in Spanish? ›

The personal a is used in Spanish before direct objects. The personal a is generally used when the direct object is a person, or an animal or thing that is thought of as a having personal qualities. Although in other contexts a is the equivalent of the English "to," the personal a is usually not translated to English.


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