Leísmo and laísmo

The first- and second-person clitic pronouns me, te, nos, os can function either as the direct object or the indirect object of a verb, as can reflexive se when used as an object pronoun. On the other hand, the third-person (non-reflexive) clitics lo(s), la(s) and le(s) are constrained in terms of the direct ~ indirect object distinction, although in different ways in different parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Uses of le(s) or la(s) that diverge from an idealized system based on the etymology of these items are referred to as leísmo or laísmo.

Except in Castile, Ecuador and Paraguay, the predominant pattern of use is the one shown in Table 1 below, which is faithful to the etymology of the relevant items, lo, los, la and las being descended from accusative Latin case forms but le and les being descended from dative forms:


Table 1     Idealized third-person clitic pronoun subsystem
  Direct object Indirect object
  Masc. Fem.
Sing. lo la le
Plu. los las les


However, in the so-called leísta dialects of Castile, Ecuador and Paraguay there is, to varying degrees, a systematic tendency to use le(s) in contexts in which the foregoing etymological principle calls for lo(s) or la(s).


Two of the commonest manifestations of leísmo are as follows. Firstly le(s) can replace lo(s) in the latter’s deictic funtion, i.e. when the pronoun is being used as the clitic correlate of usted(es), the deferential term of address. This is illustrated in (1) below, where le appears in place of lo, the latter being the form that is consistent with Table 1.


(1)       No le mencionaron.

           ‘They didn’t mention you.’


Secondly le and, less commonly, les can be used to replace lo and los in their anaphoric function whenever the antecedent is a [+ human] NP. Some examples of this anaphoric leísmo are as follows:

(2)       Su condición de candidato le coloca por encima del secretario general del partido.
            ‘His status as a candidate places him above the general secretary of the party.’

(3)       A Pedro le conozco desde hace muchos años.
            ‘I’ve known Pedro for many years.’

Again, the etymological principle enshrined in Table 1 calls for lo rather than le in examples like (2) and (3).

Combining both of the foregoing manifestations of leísmo, a ‘basic’ leísta system can be set out as in Table 2 below.


Table 2    A basic leísta system


Direct object

Indirect object





Human antecedent

Non-human antecedent


le ~ lo






los ~ les






While the system shown in Table 2 departs from the idealized, etymological one shown in Table 1, it woud not normally be regarded as being normatively unacceptable. For more extreme types of leísmo, associated particularly with Northern Castile, click here.


In Castile, leísmo is often accompanied by laísmo, a term which refers to the use of la or (less commonly) las in the role of indirect object, as in (4) and (5) below.


(4)         La apetece más otra cosa que le haga falta, quizá.
             ‘She would prefer something else that she needs, maybe.’

             (España Oral: ACON017A; Corpus del Español)


(5)         La ha quedado muy bien la cocina.
             ‘Her kitchen has turned out very well.’


While leísmo, understood as the basic type shown in Table 2, is not regarded as representing a departure from the standard language, laísmo is usually assumed to be a non-standard feature. Despite this, it may well be encountered in speech varieties, such as educated, urban Castilian Spanish, which are otherwise quite highly regarded in the Iberian Peninsula.