How to Use the Spanish “Lo”: Everything You Need to Know
The Spanish word lo is one of the most versatile words you’ll ever find in the language.
While it may seem confusing at first, once you know how to use lo in Spanish, your speaking will be more concise and sound more natural.
In this post, I’ll share the different ways to use the Spanish lo with plenty of examples and key reminders so you can master this multi-functional little word.
Let’s get started!
- The Meaning and Functions of Lo in Spanish
- Using Lo as a Direct Object Pronoun
- Using Lo as a Neuter Definite Article: Lo + Adjective
- Using Lo + Ser and Estar
- Using Lo que and Lo cual
- Using Lo de
- Expressions That Use the Spanish Lo
- What to Remember About the Spanish Lo
The Meaning and Functions of Lo in Spanish
Lo means different things depending on how it’s used. It can be used:
- to replace “him” or “it” in a sentence where the audience already knows what it’s referring to. In this case, it’s used as a direct object pronoun. Example: Lo amo. (I love it/him.)
- to create an abstract noun by placing lo before an adjective. Example: lo bueno (the good thing)
- to quickly answer a question using the verb ser or estar (to be) without needing to repeat the noun or adjective that was asked about. Example: “¿Tu coche es nuevo?” “Sí, lo es.” (“Is your car new?” “Yes, it is.”)
- to mean “what” or “that” when paired with que. Example: No escuché lo que dijó. (I didn’t hear what he said.)
- to mean “which” when paired with cual. Example: Ella estaba callada, lo cual era raro. (She was quiet, which was weird.)
- to mean “the thing about” or “the matter concerning” when paired with de. Example: Lo de tu primo, ¿es verdad? (That thing about your cousin, is it true?)
- to make a few different expressions that mean something other than their literal translations (we’ll get to those later).
To use lo correctly, you need to figure out what its function is in the sentence. Let’s take a deeper look at each of its functions and how to use them.
Using Lo as a Direct Object Pronoun
The most common function of lo in a sentence is probably that of a direct object pronoun. Direct object pronouns replace the direct object, or the noun that receives the direct action of the main verb.
Lo can be used as a masculine direct object pronoun to replace “him” or “it” when referring to a masculine object.
¿Dónde está tu hermano? (Where’s your brother?)
Lo vi en la piscina. (I saw him at the pool.)
In this case, lo means “him” and refers to tu hermano (your brother).
Me gustó ese libro. Lo leí el año pasado. (I liked that book. I read it last year.)
In this case, lo means “it” and refers to ese libro (that book).
We can also use lo as a neuter direct object pronoun to refer to something non-specific or with no gender, like an abstract idea or situation.
No puedo hacerlo. (I can’t do it.)
Quise llamar al banco pero no lo hice. (I meant to call the bank but I didn’t do it.)
Now that we know that as a direct object pronoun, lo means “him” or “it,” let’s enjoy some more examples:
Cuando lo compré no sabía que era un producto ilegal. (When I bought it I didn’t know it was an illegal product.)
Lo saludaré si lo veo. (I’ll greet him if I see him.)
Dámelo y te lo devolveré mañana. (Give it to me and I’ll give it back to you tomorrow.)
¡Lo siento! (I’m sorry! [Literally: I feel it!])
Using Lo as a Neuter Definite Article: Lo + Adjective
Spanish has four gendered definite articles, plus one neuter definite article: lo.
Lo as a neuter definite article is followed by a singular masculine adjective to form an abstract noun.
For example, you can follow lo with bueno, the singular masculine adjective for “good.” Lo bueno is now an abstract noun meaning something like “the good thing” or “that which is good.”
Using lo with an adjective means what you say after the adjective has the quality of being that adjective. After saying Lo bueno es…you would say what it is that you consider good:
Lo bueno es que todos están seguros. (The good thing is that everyone is safe.)
See how this works with some more examples:
Lo importante es participar. (The important thing is taking part.)
Lo barato sale caro. (That which is cheap ends up being expensive, or “You get what you pay for.”)
Lo mejor está por venir. (The best is yet to come.)
Lo hermoso de vivir aquí son los atardeceres. (The beautiful thing about living here are the sunsets.)
Perder el vuelo fue lo peor que pasó en nuestro viaje. (Missing the flight was the worst thing that happened on our trip.)
Using Lo + Ser and Estar
When you’re asked certain questions using ser or estar (to be), you can use lo to answer without needing to repeat the noun or adjective mentioned in the question.
To do so, you place lo in front of the verb ser or estar in reference to the noun or adjective you want to replace. It sounds confusing until you see it in practice:
“¿Es él estudiante?” “Sí, lo es. / No, no lo es.” (“Is he a student?” “Yes, he is. / No, he isn’t.”)
In this example, lo is referring to “student.”
“¿Estaba ella feliz?” “Sí, lo estaba. / No, no lo estaba.” (“Was she happy?” “Yes, she was. / No, she wasn’t.”)
This time, lo is referring to “happy.”
Here are a few more examples:
“¿Eres de Colombia?” “Sí, lo soy. / No, no lo soy.” (“Are you from Colombia?” “Yes, I am. / No, I’m not.”) — Lo is referring to being Colombian.
“¿Estuviste casada en el pasado?” “Sí, lo estuve. / No, no lo estuve.” (“Were you married in the past?” “Yes, I was. / No, I wasn’t.”) — Lo is referring to being married.
“¿Es tu madre trabajadora social?” “Sí, lo es. / No, no lo es.” (“Is your mom a social worker?” “Yes, she is. / No, she isn’t.”) — Lo is referring to being a social worker.
Using Lo que and Lo cual
The closest way of translating lo que into English is “that,” “that which” or “what,” once again, depending on the sentence.
Lo que pasó es que no tenía dinero. (What happened was that I had no money.)
Lo que necesito es más tiempo. (What I need is more time.)
No sé lo que le dijo a su madre. (I don’t know what he told his mother.)
No es oro todo lo que reluce. (Not all that glitters is gold.)
Lo cual can almost always be translated as “which.” Lo cual always refers to something that has already been mentioned before in the same sentence, so its natural position in the sentence will be after a comma, not at the beginning of the sentence as with the previous constructions:
Ayer vi a tu hermano en Madrid, lo cual me sorprendió mucho. (I saw your brother in Madrid yesterday, which surprised me a lot.)
Siempre ronca, lo cual me molesta mucho. (He always snores, which bothers me a lot.)
One curious thing about lo cual is that it can always be substituted by lo que, but the opposite does not always give you a grammatically correct sentence.
For example, you can say:
Ayer vi a tu hermano en Madrid, lo que me sorprendió mucho. (I saw your brother in Madrid yesterday, which surprised me a lot.)
But you cannot, for example, replace lo que with lo cual in the sentence No sé lo que le dijo a su madre. (I don’t know what he told his mother.)
Using Lo de
Depending on the sentence, lo de can take many different shapes and forms.
If I have to give you a general translation, it would be “the thing about,” “the matter about” or “the matter concerning.”
Lo de is normally followed by a noun or a verb in the infinitive form. When you use it, you’re referring to that noun or infinitive, and you use this construction as an introduction to the topic before you give more information about it.
Let’s have a look at one example:
Lo de mi hermano no era verdad. (That matter about my brother was not true, or What I said/was said about my brother was not true.)
In this case, the speaker is referring to something that the audience likely already knows about, without having to state exactly what it is.
Have a look at a couple more examples:
Lo de mi vecino es un misterio. (That matter about my neighbor is a mystery.)
Lo de bailar no es mi fuerte. (Dancing is not my strength.) — Lo here is just referring to “the topic of / the act of” dancing.
In that last example, you might be wondering if you can say Bailar no es mi fuerte without having to use lo de. You absolutely can! If you have an infinitive you can omit lo de. It sounds so nice in Spanish, though…
Expressions That Use the Spanish Lo
Lo appears in a number of fixed expressions that most of the time cannot be translated literally.
The best piece of advice I can give you here is to study these expressions and learn them by heart. There are only a few and they’re used often enough to make them worth the time investment.
Here are the five most commonly used expressions with lo:
|A lo lejos||In the distance||Lo vi a lo lejos y lo reconocí enseguida. (I saw him in the distance and recognized him right away.)
Desde la cima de la montaña, podíamos ver la ciudad a lo lejos. (From the top of the mountain, we could see the city in the distance.)
|A lo mejor||Maybe||A lo mejor ya han llegado. (Maybe they have arrived already.)
A lo mejor llueve mañana, así que deberíamos llevar paraguas. (Maybe it will rain tomorrow, so we should bring umbrellas.)
|Por lo menos||At least||Necesito por lo menos una hora más. (I need at least one more hour.)
Tenemos que llegar por lo menos media hora antes del concierto. (We have to arrive at least half an hour before the concert.)
|Por lo tanto||So, hence, thus, therefore, as a result||Vivo solo, por lo tanto tengo mucho tiempo libre. (I live by myself, so I have a lot of free time.)
Estudiar para el examen es importante, por lo tanto, debes dedicarle tiempo. (Studying for the exam is important, therefore, you should dedicate time to it.)
|Por lo visto||Apparently||Por lo visto se ha vuelto a casar. (Apparently he has remarried.)
Por lo visto, el concierto estuvo lleno de energía y emoción. (Apparently, the concert was full of energy and excitement.)
What to Remember About the Spanish Lo
When functioning as a pronoun, lo will precede the verb except when the verb is an infinitive, a present participle or a positive imperative:
Lo quiero. (I want it/him.) — Quiero is not an infinitive, present participle or positive imperative, so lo goes before it.
No puedo comprarlo. (I cannot buy it.) — Comprar is an infinitive verb, so lo goes after (and attached to) it.
Estoy cambiándolo. (I am changing it.) — Cambiando is a present participle, so lo goes after it.
¡Dámelo! (Give it to me!) — Dáme is a positive imperative, so lo goes after it.
Don’t think you can translate lo as “it” every time. As shown above, there are many cases where lo does not translate to “it” or “him.” Consider the context to determine what the whole phrase or sentence means, as you can’t always translate the word lo directly into English.
Congratulations on taking this huge step to boost your Spanish to the next level.
Stay curious and, as always, happy learning!