Most people learning Spanish quickly realize that some Spanish words pop up a lot. The tricky part for language students is knowing how to use important words that mean different things in different contexts. Such is the case of our little friend lo (pronounced like the ‘lo’ in ‘lock’). Now you might say: “but lo simply means ‘it’, right?” Well, it can mean ‘it’, as a direct object pronoun, but it is also used in several other ways, all of which are important and incredibly prevalent. So, keep reading to get the lowdown on lo!
Lo as a direct object pronoun
Alright, so let’s start by showing you how lo is used as a direct object pronoun. Let’s translate that from grammar-speak into something more digestible: “lo” is used to mean it or him when referring to an object or person previously mentioned or implied.
Let’s dive straight into some examples:
|Ay no, ¡me olvidé mi celular! Creo que lo dejé en la mesa.||Oh no, I forgot my cellphone! I think I left it on the table.|
|Tu hermano está en tu casa, ¿no cierto? Lo vi entrar hace un ratito.||Your brother is in your house, right? I saw him go in a little while ago.|
|Él no lo quiere limpiar. / Él no quiere limpiarlo.||He doesn’t want to clean it.|
|¡Levántalo!||Pick it up!|
First of all, we’re not going to embark on a lengthy explanation of how object pronouns work in the Spanish language, because that deserves its own post. The important thing to remember is when you’re referring back to an object (it) or male person in the singular (him) that is not the subject of the sentence, you have to use lo. This means that a sentence like “it has air-conditioning” would not be “lo tiene aire acondicionado”. No way, José! The correct way to say this is “tiene aire condicionado”.
“lo” is used to mean it or him when referring to an object or person previously mentioned or implied.
Please note that Spanish speakers tend to use lo a bit more often as a direct object pronoun than English speakers. There are phrases in English where the word “it” is implied but not actually said. However, in Spanish, the word can’t be omitted. A good example of this is the common phrase: (yo) lo sé. In English, this would be: “I know”. You wouldn’t generally say “I know it”, right?
Please note: the word lo is almost always placed before the verb (lo vi), though with infinitives or gerunds they can also be placed right after the verb without any space in between (no quiere limpiarlo). When the verb is a command, it always has to be added straight onto the verb (levántalo).
We learn best by doing, so here’s a quick exercise for you to practice with lo as a direct object pronoun. We’ve given you the words to create a Spanish sentence with lo (along with the English translation) and all you have to do is put them in the right order.
Answers are found at the bottom of the article. No cheating, ¡por favor!
|Spanish words to use||Spanish sentence||English translation|
|Favor / lo / puedes / preguntar / se / por||Can you please ask him?|
|Adrián / lo / ya / limpió||Adrián already finished it.|
|Llevado / los empleados / lo / otra habitación / la / han / a||The employees have taken it to the other room.|
Lo que and lo cual
These two ways of using lo are also very common. Lo que more or less translates to “the thing that/what” and lo cual is used similarly to “which” in sentence clauses.
Let’s jump straight to some examples to understand what they mean with context.
|Lo que quiero decirte, es que te amo.||What/the thing that I want to tell you, is that I love you.|
|Lo que tiene que hacer el gobierno es aumentar la inversión en la educación.||What/the thing that the government has to do is increase investment in education.|
|Brayan llegó tarde a mi fiesta, lo cual me molestó mucho.||Brayan arrived late to my party, which annoyed me a lot.|
|Sus padres ancianos tenían que subir muchas gradas, lo cual les cansó mucho.||His elderly parents had to go up many steps, which made them very tired.|
Your turn to practice now! You’ll hear the phrase “Lo que pasa es que..” all over Latin America preceding an excuse for why someone did (or didn’t) do something. So in the next exercise you get to practice making excuses! You never know, they could come in handy one day…
|What you didn’t do||Your excuse|
|¡Oye! ¿Por qué no lavaste los platos?||Lo que pasa es que… me llamaron para hacer un trabajo urgente!|
|¿Dónde están las galletas que dejé aquí?||Lo que pasa es que…|
|¿Por qué llegaste dos horas tarde a nuestra reunión?||Lo que pasa es que…|
|¡Dejaste toda tu ropa tirada en el piso!||Lo que pasa es que…|
Lo as a definite article (Lo plus an adjective)
Lo bueno, lo malo, lo increíble, lo terrible; all of these are expressions used incredibly frequently in Spanish. Grammatically, this is where lo is used as a neuter definite article.
It’s helpful again to think about lo as if it meant “the thing that”, but this time with an adjective.
Lo bueno de comer sano es que te enfermas poco means: the good thing about eating healthily is that you get sick less.
Lo mejor de este departamento es la vista means: the best thing about this apartment is the view.
Here are some more examples and a couple of sentences for you to translate.
|Lo interesante del trabajo de Angie es que viaja mucho.||The interesting thing about Angie’s job is that she travels a lot.|
|¡Lo chévere de vivir con él es que cocina muy rico!||The cool thing about living with him is that he cooks deliciously!|
|(Your translation)||The important thing is that the baby was born healthy.|
|(Your translation)||The best thing about my (male) cousin is his broad literature knowledge.|
Common expressions containing lo
To conclude, here are some common expressions that have lo in them.
|Lo siento.||I’m sorry (about it).|
|A: Ese libro es muy interesante. B: Sí, lo es!||A: That book is very interesting. B: Yes, it is!|
|Sobre lo de ayer…||About (that thing) yesterday..|
|Es lo que hay.||It is what it is.|
|Por lo tanto||Therefore|
|Lo mismo||The same|
|En lo referente a||In referring to (the thing)..|
|Nadie nos quita lo bailado.||Nobody takes away that which we danced. (expression meaning: the fun you’ve had can’t be ruined, whatever happened afterwards)|
We hope this has helped you understand the main ways lo is used in Spanish a bit better. Keep practicing, and just remember: that tiny word lo is your friend, not your foe! ¡Nos vemos pronto chiquillos!
Answers to exercises:
Exercise 1: ¿Puedes preguntárselo por favor? / (Or: ¿Se lo puedes preguntar, por favor?)
Ya lo terminó Adrián.
Los empleados lo han llevado a la otra habitación.
Exercise 2: Answer freely.. remember to be creative!
Exercise 3: Lo importante es que el bebé nació sano. / Lo mejor de mi primo es su amplio conocimiento de la literatura.