Sunday, October 28, 2007

Esperar / Ayudar: Transitive or intransitive?

Hi Karin,

I have a question about whether to use the direct object or indirect object pronoun with the word “esperar” as in the following example: “Así que, no pierdan este gran evento programdo para el próximo sábado. Los (Les) esperamos en la tienda La Chulita.” Which is the correct object pronoun to use there? If I look in my dictionary for the meaning of “esperar” it tells me that one of the meanings is “to wait for”. Since the preposition “for” is already built into the verb then wouldn’t we use the direct object pronoun?

On the other hand, the verb “ayudar” does not have a preposition in its definition, which is “to help”. I would assume that we have to use the indirect object pronoun with this word as in: ¿Cómo puedo ayudarle? But I an not sure because I have heard ayudar used with the direct object pronoun like this: ¿Cómo puedo ayudarlo?. In both cases the translated meaning is “How can I help you?”

As you can see, my question is about object pronouns for verbs that are hard for English speakers to identify as requiring the direct or the indirect object.

Thank you,
– Jerome

Hi Jerome,

Sorry for the delay. My computer crashed and I've been busy trying to restore everything I lost... but I'm back now.

OK, so first let's talk about "esperar". Your analysis is correct. In your example, we need the direct object pronoun, and we should say "¡Los esperamos!". However, you would find a lot of people who would say "Les esperamos" (but this is what we call "leísmo"). And while we're at it, a minor correction... we would say "Así que, no SE pierdan este gran evento...". Now, be careful. There are a few cases where "esperar" is an intransitive verb (taking and indirect object). For example, "Le(s) espera un mal tiempo". In this case "le(s)" is required. (Check the DRAE)

Now, regarding "ayudar", you are right again. It is a transitive verb and it should take the direct object pronoun. (You can verify this in the DRAE) And again, MANY Spanish speakers would say "¿Cómo puedo ayudarle?" when adressing someone using "usted". The correct way, though, is "¿Cómo puedo ayudarlo/a'?" (depending on the gender, of course).

If you hear native speakers using “le(s)” with these verbs, remember: native speech is not perfect... it's just the way people learned to speak (and a lot of people learned the wrong way).

Have a great day,

– Karin


robbienmeri said...

I like to think of this issue in terms of form and function. The pronouns having the form "lo(s)" and "la(s)" have only one (pronominal) function: a direct object (of course, they are also articles). On the other hand, the form "le(s)" has two functions: direct object and indirect object. Usually, when a native speaker uses the form "le(s)", it's not because the verb is intransitive; "le" is ambiguous. This does not mean that the speakers learned it "the wrong way"--language evolves over time, and this is simply the function that "le(s)" has acquired over time.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there is no right or wrong way to using a language. However, the issue of lo or le with usted needs to to clarified. Wihtout saying that the use of 'le' with ayudar is 'wrong' or even 'grammatically incorrect' we CAN say that many native speakers mistake 'le' for an indirect pronoun when it is a direct pronoun. As a non-native teacher of Spanish at a university I find it extremely important to understand this for myself.

Anonymous said...

I'm battling with the same exact issue but the last comment is totally wrong as far as I can see.
It's the opposite ! "Le" is, in fact, an IO pronoun and I think we can all agree on that. Just look at "gustar" and it's use.
"Lo(s)/La(s)" are DO pronouns and it appears Spanish speakers prefer using "le" with "ayudar" when it should be "lo(s)/la(s)". I heard a theory that if the DO is a person "le" is used instead of "lo/la" but:
1. Is that the same "le" as the IO pronoun or a completely separate "le" I hadn't heard of before ? (similar to the "se" that is really a "le" with the "l" replaced with an "s" to avoid stuff like "le lo" etc..)
2. Or are Spanish speakers trying to say "Can I be of help to you ?" instead of "Can I help you ?"
This would be fine with me except what throws me for a loop is that my McGrawHill dictionary lables this word as either transitive or reflexive but not intransitive. However, any online dictionary I check lables it as both and that would make sense to me.
Does anyone have some thoughts about that ?

sofiabohmer said...

I also strongly disagree that there is such thing as linguistic correctness. Cognitivism, a current I concur with, says that "speakers" are always right: If they use two different signs it´s because there are necessarily two different meanings.

Given a slang that uses both "lo" and "le" with the same verbs (ayudarle/lo, molestarle/lo, etc...) cognitive grammar says that the speakers choose between "lo" and "le" depending of the grade of affectation: "le" implies more participation of the object in the event whereas "lo" implies less. This means that "lo" is perceived by the speaker as more passive than "le" this is more affected by the agent.

Butt and Benjamin grammar has a very complete chapter on pronouns I recommend.

Tom said...

It's been my experience that many verbs that convey emotion tend to take IO pronouns, even though they function as DO pronouns. You can make that case with the verb gustar as well. If something "pleases me," them "me" is clearly a DO pronoun. Yet we use IOP with gustar constantly. Ayudar is transitive, yet you will frequently hear it used with an IOP (and ayudar doesn't even convey emotion). This "leísmo" is nothing new. I heard it all the time in Salamanca. I wouldn't say it's "wrong," just a regional preference for some.