Dativo de interés - specific use of indirect object pronouns

In Spanish there is a very specific use of the indirect object pronouns (me, te, le, nos, os, les) called "dativo de interés". This is when we use an indirect object pronoun to indicate that someone either benefits or loses out from something that happens.

For example:

Ayer nos cayó un buen chaparrón.Yesterday it poured rain on us.

Ese niño de ahí un día me robó la cartera.One day that boy over there stole my money purse from me.

Se me ha escapado el hamster.My hamster escaped (from me).

Te lloverán ofertas de trabajo; no te preocupes.You will get tons of job offers; don't worry.

As you can see, in the first 3 examples above there is someone losing out from what happens, and in the last example someone benefits from the action. 

Sometimes there can be ambiguity, where the function of the indirect object pronoun it is not clear. Here is a typical example:

¡Nos han comprado la casa!They bought us the house (for us) / They bought us the house (from us)

In this example we could be talking about two different things:

  • somebody has bought a house "for us" as a gift
  • or perhaps we are trying to sell our house and someone has finally bought it "from us".

The pronoun can indicate that there is a person/people affected "indirectly" by the event, not always clearly benefitting or losing out, but simply being "affected" by it, or it indicates that someone has an interest in this event. In this case, it is sometimes called "dativo ético".

There is normally no translation in English for the pronoun indicating the affected person.

For example:

A Manuel se le ha muerto el perro y el pobre está muy afectado.Manuel's dog died and poor thing, he is very affected by it.

Los niños se nos están haciendo mayores sin darnos cuenta.Our children are growing without us realising.

Mi hija pequeña no me come nada y estoy muy preocupada.My younger daughter doesn't eat anything and I am very worried.

 

Bear in mind that when used with conjugated pronominal verbs, the reflexive pronoun is placed before the indirect object pronoun (dativo), never the other way round:

Correct:

A Manuel se le ha muerto el perro.

Incorrect:

A Manuel le se ha muerto el perro.

See also Using the "accidental" reflexive (se) with an indirect object pronoun

 

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Examples and resources

Ese niño de ahí un día me robó la cartera.One day that boy over there stole my money purse from me.
Te lloverán ofertas de trabajo; no te preocupes.You will get tons of job offers; don't worry.
Mi hija pequeña no me come nada y estoy muy preocupada.My younger daughter doesn't eat anything and I am very worried.
Los niños se nos están haciendo mayores sin darnos cuenta.Our children are growing without us realising.
Ayer nos cayó un buen chaparrón.Yesterday it poured rain on us.
¡Nos han comprado la casa!They bought us the house (for us) / They bought us the house (from us)
A Manuel se le ha muerto el perro y el pobre está muy afectado.Manuel's dog died and poor thing, he is very affected by it.
Se me ha escapado el hamster.My hamster escaped (from me).
Clever stuff underway!