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Old December 23, 2012, 04:53 PM
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Originally Posted by LearningSpanish View Post
Miraba a las aves salvajes comer las semillas de girasol en mi patio.

El gato persiguió al raton.

El oftalmólogo me miró los ojos y me dijo que no necesitaba gafas.

El oftalmólogo me miró a los ojos y me dijo que mi enfermedad no tenía curación.
None of the examples make use of the personal 'a'. That is used when the direct object is a person (or a pet who is treated as a person).

Because Spanish has more flexibility in word order, there is a device that can be used to mark the roles of some of the nouns. That device is the preposition 'a'.

This preposition is always used to signal the indirect object.

Because a subject and a direct object can be located on either side of the verb, it is important to mark the direct object with the preposition 'a' so it isn't confused with the subject. This is what happened in your first two sentences. In the second, it may not be so obvious since English word order was used.

Let's swap things around a bit so that you can see how important that little preposition is. In your second sentence, the cat is definitely the subject and the mouse is definitely the object being pursued.

Al ratón persiguió el gato.

Here, even though the nouns have switched places, the meaning hasn't changed. The cat is still chasing the mouse.

Al ratón el gato persiguió.

Here, both nouns are to the left of the verb, but we haven't changed the meaning. Both nouns could be switched, and remain left of the verb, with still no change in meaning. Both nouns could be placed to the right of the verb, in either order, and the meaning would still be the same!

Since I've seen mice chase cats before, how do we say that? We simply move the preposition:
El ratón persiguió al gato.
Al gato el ratón persiguió.
Persiguió el ratón al gato.

In your last two sentences, you have two different scenarios.
The first one uses the pattern 'mirar algo'. The 'algo' is a thing, someone's eyes in your case. This is a direct object and it'll always be a thing. The subject is usually a person, since things don't look at anything, so there's no need to distinguish the two nouns. There should be no confusion. If the pattern is 'mirar a alguien', that is when you have a case for using the personal 'a'.

The second example you wrote uses 'mirar a los ojos' as a set phrase, meaning 'to look someone in the eye'.

Last edited by Rusty; December 24, 2012 at 05:20 PM. Reason: made it more clear in parts
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