That's what I had always been taught and apparently I was taught wrong. It's been a hot topic around here in the DL comments.
The "personal a" is used almost always when the object of the sentence is animate, especially the higher orders of animals. Flies (moscas) maybe not ...
That's not what all the Spanish grammar books say. I have not seen an example of where any ole animate direct object would require the personal 'a'; Come on, would you really use the personal 'a' with a cockroach? You were not taught wrong! There is one specific user on Duo that insists that one would indeed use the personal 'a' if the direct object were a bug or anything that was animate. IMHO, I totally disagree. I have seven text books and not one of them agree with her.
I don't have the link handy, but AndreasWitnstein has quoted a scholarly study that is quite impressive. As I said, it isn't what I was taught. (I thought only for persons and for pet animals and other "things" that were personified.) DL and Andreas (and the source) say differently.
I did say higher orders of animals. So, no, I don't think insects/bugs/etc. count.
And, I still don't really understand, to be honest.
It's not just a matter of one scholarly article. There's a vast scholarly literature on this subject —under the rubrics of “acusativo preposicional”, “‘a’ de acusativo”, “prepositional accusative”, “accusative ‘a’”, and “differential object marking”— by actual philologists and linguists empirically studying actual Spanish texts and speech.
Yes, the animate ‘a’ is used even with a cockroach. For example, right now here in Spain, Google lists more than 137 times as many hits for ‘atrapar a la cucaracha’ (4,260) as for ‘atrapar la cucaracha’ (31).
It's deplorable that this false information has been propagated through seven textbooks, but textbook authors, like so many authors (Iraq WMDs, anyone?) copy from their peers, especially terminology. In any case, English-language Spanish textbooks, regardless of their number, have no control over how native Spanish speakers use their own language.
andreas- But in Google, informations come most of the time from anyone, we see here in Duo often when many persons say I'll report it, they think they're c orrect and often they're wrong. So if many people who are wrong write on google to give their wrong answer, how can we trust that?. I prefer be looking at grammar instead.
isenhatesyou- the rule is complex. For people, you would say he visto A Juan/I saw Juan. Imagine you own a bar. last year you hired a waiter. This year you want to hire him again, you'll say : busco a un camarero/I'm Looking for a waiter. Personal A because you already know the guy. Busco un camarero, it means you need a waiter and no matter who he will be, even though you don't know him yet. The same for animals in the forest for exemple : they're not a pet, you don't know him, you don't know its name, no personal A is needed
Buscar takes an a after it. You "buscar a una objeta".
This always stands out really starkly to me because usually the spanish 'a' translates to 'to', 'on', or 'at'; all of which significantly differ from the english preposition that goes with "to look" in this case ("for"). However, this is far from the only time I've seen "buscar a"...
yes, but it can be helpful to also think of it as "to look for" so that we remember that we don't need to (usually) use a preposition after the word in Spanish. (Some people in English use a preposition after "seek"; I don't, but some do.) Also, because the two words are often translated as "look", thinking of mirar = "to look (at)" and buscar = "to look for" helps me decide which to use.
My general impression of the so-called "personal a" is that it helps distinguish between the direct object and the subject when the direct object has agency--is capable of acting. In Spanish sentences the subject can be omitted or it can be put at the end of a sentence without changing the meaning. So you could have "Puede buscar al gato" (You/he/she can search for the cat) and "Puede buscar el gato" (The cat can search). The "a" makes it clear which you mean.
English distinguished subject and direct object by word order--"Dog bites man" vs "Man bites dog"--while other languages like Russian do it by declension, changing the form of the noun depending on the role it plays. Spanish does it by including the preposition "a".