Episode 56: What's the deal with "Lo"? Part 1

"Lo" is one of those really versatile words in Spanish, and can be pretty tricky for English speakers to wrap their minds around (even I struggle with it sometimes!). So today's episode gives an overview on the main ways that "lo" is used in Spanish. There are 6, so we'll go over the first 3 today.


In Spanish, "Lo" can be used as 1) a direct object pronoun, 2) a neuter definite article, 3) a neuter relative pronoun, 4) combined with the preposition "de", 5) after the verbs Ser and Estar, and 6) in various Spanish phrases. All of these phrases are a bit technical (and unhelpful), so let's dive in to what it all means.

1. Direct Object Pronoun

Now, since this podcast/blog is aimed at people who can speak Spanish at an intermediate or advanced level, I won't spend a lot of time on this one. But essentially, whenever in English you would say "Him" or "It" as a direct object, that's when you would use "Lo".

An example sentence or two would be:

  • I like that car. I want to buy it. Me gusta este coche. Quiero comprarlo.

  • Did you invite him to the party? ¿Lo invitaste a la fiesta?

If you'd like to practice your Spanish while also reviewing the differences between direct and indirect objects, check out Episodio 48: Los Pronombres de los Objetos Directos e Indirectos from my other podcast, Respuestas Inglesas. I've included below a table from that episode that outlines which Spanish indirect and direct objects are used with which nouns.

One thing to bear in mind, "Lo" can be used as a neuter direct object pronoun. That is, when the direct object is referring to something abstract, something vague and general, or something that was previously stated, then you can also use "lo". And when you do, it doesn't need to reflect any specific gender or plurality, like "la" or "los".

For example:

  • I don't understand that. = No lo entiendo.

  • I know he says that, but he doesn't mean it. = Sé que dice eso, pero no lo dice en serio. (Note how both "eso" and "lo" are used this way. I hope to cover "eso" in a different episode.)

2. Lo (Neuter Definite Article)

This technical term actually hides something really cool about Spanish, which is that you can use "lo" and an adjective to create an abstract noun. The closest we have in English is the phrase, "The _____ thing is" or saying general things, such as "that which is good", or "the best", as in "That's the best!"

Here are some popular Lo+adjective phrases:

  • Lo bueno = the good Lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno. Roughly translated, it means "that which is good, if brief, is twice as good." According to the online Collins dictionary, this is a Spanish proverb equivalent to our saying, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

  • Lo malo = the bad Lo malo es que ahora ella no me habla. The bad thing is that now she won't talk to me.

  • Lo importante = the important Lo importante es que nadie resulte herido. The important thing is that no one got hurt. You could also translate this as, "What's important is that no one got hurt."

  • Lo difícil = the difficult Lo difícil del inglés son las irregularidades. The difficult thing about English is its irregularities. (Notice how in Spanish, you would use the plural form of "to be", whereas in English we keep it as singular. This is based more on the fact that we have to use a different grammatical format to say what is being said in English.)

  • Lo mejor = the best ¡Eso es lo mejor! That's the best!

  • Lo peor = the worst ¡Esta semana ha sido lo peor! This week has been the worst!

  • Lo impossible = the impossible Lograr lo impossible es possible con trabajo duro y fe. Achieving the impossible is possible with hard work and faith.

  • Lo mío = that which is mine, what's mine Lo mío es tuyo. What's mine is yours.

Keep in mind, when we use "Lo" this way (Lo + adjective = New Noun!), then "Lo" doesn't have to match a specific gender or plurality. It's always a singular, neuter article (hence the technical name). Taking some of the phrases above, you can get a better idea of what I mean.

  • Lo difícil del inglés son las irregularidades. (Note how the difficult thing about English, las irregularidades, are plural and feminine, but still we say, "lo difícil".)

  • ¡Esta semana ha sido lo peor! This week is the worst! (Note how the subject is "esta semana", but we still use "lo peor" rather than "la peor". Now, if we were to say "Esta semana es la peor semana de mi vida!", we would change "lo" to "la", because now we are using the adjective in the normal way - to modify a noun, rather than to be a noun - and so it would need to match the noun it is modifying in gender and plurality.)

  • Ha puesto lo mío en el piso. He has put my stuff on the floor. While the implied "stuff" in the Spanish sentence would be "cosas", we would not say "las mías" unless we specifically mentioned "Ha puesto las cosas mías". Again, this comes down to the difference between using lo + adjective to create a noun and correctly using an adjective to modify a noun.

3. Lo Que / Lo Cual (Neuter Relative Pronouns)

"Lo que" and "Lo cual" are both used to refer to abstract and general terms or ideas and "lo que" can be translated as "what", "that", or - as it is with "lo cual", "which". Because "lo que" and "que" can both be translated into English as "what" or "that", knowing when to use which can be tricky. There's a really great video by Real Fast Spanish (see below) that does an excellent dive into this very question.

It is over 15 min. long, however, so if you would like just a short gist, it's this:

In a sentence that has 2 clauses connected by "what", and "what" is followed by a conjugated verb that doesn´t have an object, you probably need to use "lo que".

Even as a gist, that's a bit complex. Here are some examples to help explain:

  • He knows what his dog wants. = Sabe lo que quiere su perro. (Vs. He knows that his dog wants to eat. = Sabe que su perro quiere comer. Do you see how in the first sentence, the second clause - in green font - does not have an object, whereas in the second example, it does? ("to eat") Or that in English we would use the word, "that" instead of "what"?)

  • I can't understand what you are saying. = No puedo entender lo que estás diciendo. (Vs. I can understand that you asked why in French. = Puedo entender que preguntaste por qué en francés.)

Here are some other examples of "lo que". Notice that the phrase "lo que" sometimes begins a sentence. If this trips you up, simply rearrange the sentence to see the phrase 1 + what + phrase 2 setup:

  • What you need to know in an emergency is in the pamphlet. = Lo que necesita saber en caso de emergencia está en el folleto. (You could turn this into "You need to know in an emergency what is in the pamphlet." = Necesita saber en caso de emergencia lo que se incluye en el folleto.)

  • What I need is chocolate. = Lo que necesito es chocolate. (You could say instead, "Chocolate is what I need." = Chocolate es lo que necesito.)

  • This is not what I wanted to say. = Esto no es lo que quería decir.

If "what" is followed by an infinitive verb, then you use "que". In questions, "what" is "qué".

See these examples:

  • I don't know what to do. = No sé que hacer.

  • He asked me what to bring to the picnic. = Me preguntó qué llevar al picnic.

  • What's up? = ¿Qué pasa?

  • What do you need? = ¿Qué necesitas?

If you add "Todo" to "lo que" at the beginning of a sentence, it turns it into, "All that..." in English. For example:

  • All that I have is yours. = Todo lo que tengo es tuyo.

  • All that he does is for you. = Todo lo que hace es por ti.

  • All that I can do is cry. = Todo lo que puedo hacer es llorar.

So when do you use "Lo cual"? Basically, whenever you would say "which" in Spanish. You can use "lo que" as well, but it is less formal than "lo cual". My rule of thumb for when to use "which" is if you have two phrases separated by a comma, then you use "which" right after the comma. (This is because "which" has to refer to something that was previously stated.)

For example:

  • He tried to calm her down, which is no easy feat. =Trató de calmarla, lo cual no es tarea fácil.

  • They took the stairs, which was a mistake. = Ellos tomaron las escaleras, lo cual fue un error.

And that covers our first three uses of "Lo"! In Episode 57, we'll cover the other 3: Lo de, Lo after Ser/Estar, and Fun Phrases!

I hope this has helped you! If there are any topics you would like me to cover, please email me at contact@languageanswers.com.

Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.

¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!


Cultural Tip: Argentina

Unique National Holidays

Remember, last week I only did 4 of Argentina's 10 unique holidays (to cut down on time), so this week we'll pick up where we left off at #5.

5. National Flag Day (Paso a la Inmortalidad del General Manuel Belgrano) (06/20)

This day commemorates the death of the man who created the first version of Argentina's current flag, General Manuel Belgrano. During the Argentine War of Independence, Belgrano realized during battle that both sides were using Spain's yellow and red colors. So he created a new flag that used the same colors the Criollos used during the May Revolution of 1810, and the first flag flown was in Rosario on February 27, 1812. In 1861, the version that we see today become the official flag, with the sun included in the middle.

6. Martin Miguel de Guernes Day (Takes place on June 17, but was celebrated on the 21st; I'm assuming this is so they could have a 3-day weekend, since the 17th was a Thursday and the 21st a Monday.)

This day marks the death of Martin Miguel de Güemes, an important military leader in the 19th century. Also known as the Hero of the Gauchos, he led a guerrilla force of gauchos (a.k.a., Los Gauchos de Güemes) after the 1810 May Revolution to defend the northwestern part of Argentina from Spanish invasions from Peru. He was important in the Battle of Suipacha, the first military victory for the Argentinians in November 1810, and his military successes helped the new government to become established and gave General José de San Martin the time he needed to raise his army, winning important battles in Peru and Chile. Güemes was shot in the back in 1821 and died 10 days later on June 17th.

7. Independence Day (Día de la Independencia) (07/09)

Always celebrated on July 9th, this day celebrates Argentina's declared independence from Spain on July 9, 1816. Interestingly enough, it was the Argentinians' ability to fend off 2 invasions from Great Britain in 1806 and 1807 that gave them the confidence to fight for their independence. They created their First Government Junta in Buenos Aires on May 28, 1810 when they learned that Napoleon had overthrown King Ferdinand VII. When Napoleon was defeated in 1816, delegates from the United Provinces of South America gathered at a home in Tucumán and declared themselves independent from Spain. Today, people celebrate the event with parades, family reunions, and military demonstrations.

8. San Martin's Day (08/16)

This day marks the death of José de San Martín and is celebrated on the 3rd Monday in August. (In case you hadn't noticed a trend, Argentina celebrates its heroes by commemorating their death rather than their birth.) San Martín is regarded as the most important founding father for Argentina, as he was the main leader for their independence from Spain. He is considered one of the Liberators of Spanish South America, along with Simón Bolívar. In fact, he is a hero in Peru (where they call him "Fundador de la Libertad del Peru", "Protector de Peru", "Generalísimo de las Armas", and "Fundador de la República"), in Chile (where they call him "Captain General"), and in Argentina ("Padre de la Patria"). The highest decoration you can get in Argentina is named after him, The Order of the Liberator General San Martin.

9. Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity (in lieu) (10/08-10/11)

Argentina created a Public Holiday on Friday before the Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity (which is their version of Día de la Raza, as it's commonly called in Central and South America, or Christopher Columbus Day in the U.S.) to create a 4-day weekend. The day celebrates the first contact between Europe and the Indigenous communities - the day when Christopher Columbus first arrived - and is to celebrate the diversity among both people groups. In Argentina, they celebrate it the second Monday in October, just as we do in the U.S.

10. Day of National Sovereignty (Día de la Soberanía Nacional) (11/22)

Celebrated on the 4th Monday of November, it marks the Battle of Vuelta de Obligado, which took place November 20, 1845. What's a little odd about this day is that Argentina lost the battle. They had been trying to convince Uruguay and Paraguay to join their confederation and had raised tariffs to protect against colonial strength, which led to the British and French setting up a blockade of the Río de la Plata. Yet the British and French had such great losses that, despite their victory, they negotiated a treaty with Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas (who was the governor of Buenos Aires).



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