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Published on: Grammar

How to Master Lo in Spanish

To be fair, the word Lo in Spanish is kind of like a jack-of-all-trades. It has so many different uses that, at times, it can be difficult to translate exactly what Lo means. 

In today’s article, we’re going to go over all the different uses of this mysterious word and how exactly you can use Lo in Spanish. But the best part is that by the end of this article, you’ll see why it’s so great and you’ll wish we had Lo in English. 

Lo as a Spanish direct object pronoun

The Spanish language has a lot of pronouns, way more than in English. So if you want to master all of these different pronouns, you have to take just a little bit of time to grasp all these different grammar concepts. 

Today we are only looking at Lo in Spanish, which has a wide range of uses. First, let’s look at it in terms of a direct object pronoun. 

In case you forgot what direct object pronouns in Spanish are, these are words that directly receive the action of the verb and are replacing a noun. So as an example in English, “Sarah hit him”, “him” is a direct object pronoun because he is receiving the action (he’s getting hit). Also, we are saying “him” to replace a male person, rather than using the person’s name (let’s say, Tom). 

See, that wasn’t too difficult! Let’s take a look at Lo in two different cases:

Masculine direct object pronoun

So, just as described already, we can use Lo in Spanish as a masculine direct object pronoun. If we use our previous example and translate it into Spanish:

  • Sarah pegó a Tom – Sarah lo pegó

So, luckily, it works exactly the same as in English. The only difference is that we follow the pronoun rules and put it before the verb. But let’s look at some other examples.

  • ¿Tienes mi libro? Dámelo
  • ¿Viste a Juan? Sí, lo vi ayer. 

So you can see these masculine direct object pronouns are pretty easy. Just remember the placement rules. For example, you can’t say dame lo, but rather all together as one word for commands, infinitives, and gerunds. 

Neuter direct object pronoun

Neuter direct object pronouns work pretty much in the same way, the only difference is that we use it for an abstract noun, instead. This generally means situations, activities, or a previous statement (i.e, a noun phrase) can all be replaced with Lo Here you could translate Lo to “that” or “it”. 

  • No lo sé. – I don’t know (it/that).
  • Ya lo comprendo. – I already understand that.
  • Tenemos que hacerlo. – We have to do it.

While this is a pretty straightforward rule, be careful not to overuse it. For example, Lo doesn’t replace “it” 100% of the time in English. For example, you cannot say “lo es importante” to mean “it is important”, because Spanish words work differently and Lo is not a subject pronoun (like yo, , ella, etc.)

spanish relative pronoun lo
“No lo entiendo”. Image by Towfiqu Barbhuiya via Unsplash

Lo as a Neuter Definite Article in Spanish

This is one of the best uses of Lo in Spanish because we don’t always have a direct equivalent in English, but these neuter definite articles are so helpful. 

Usually, you would use Lo with an adjective to turn it all into an abstract noun, which roughly translates to “the X thing” in English. Let’s look at some examples to understand this better:

Spanish English
Lo mejor es que al final, aprobé el examen. The best part is that I passed the exam.
Lo bueno es que tengo mucho tiempo libre. The good thing is I have a lot of free time.
Da igual que perdiste, lo importante es participar. It doesn’t matter that you lost, the important thing is to participate.
Lo barato sale caro. Cheap things end up being expensive.
Yo también estudio lo mismo. I’m studying the same thing.
Lo interesante es que nunca volvió. The interesting thing is he never returned.
Lo mejor está por venir. The best is yet to come.

So we can see that Lo often translates to “thing/part”, but really what you do is create some abstract noun using an adjective. And honestly, this neuter definite article is an amazingly useful tool to have that we’re missing in English. 

The next time you’re having a conversation in Spanish, this will definitely show up. 

Lo with verbs Ser and Estar

This is a common collocation to see since you can use Lo to replace neuter concepts, such as adjectives or entire clauses. So when you need to describe something with ser or estar and you don’t want to be repetitive, you can use Lo

Having difficulty remembering the differences between the verbs ser and estar? Click that link where we explain everything there is to know about them!

  • “Ella está loca.” “No, no lo está”
  • “¿Es nueva tu computadora?” “No, no lo es” 
  • “No creo que estén felices” “Sí, sí que lo están” 
  • “Era una mentira muy grande, ¿verdad?” “Sí, lo era. 

As you can see from the examples, Lo is always replacing something abstract or a clause. This ends up being very common with ser and estar

Did you notice something else with the examples above? A lot of times, when you want to agree with a negative sentence, or you want to disagree with a statement, you should repeat the sí / no.

In the third example, the person is disagreeing with the first statement, so they say “Sí, sí que…”. Although this is out of the scope of today’s lesson, it’s a good thing to keep in mind for the future! 

Spanish Relative Pronouns

Spanish Relative pronouns, Lo que, and Lo cual might be some of the more difficult Spanish words on today’s list. In brief, you use these types of pronouns to introduce relative clauses.

Without getting too bogged down in all the details, this means you use relative pronouns to give more information about something, without needing to start a whole new sentence. 

The reason we should think about it this way is that there’s not always a good English translation. So let’s look at some examples and try to figure out different ways to use them without focusing so much on an exact English translation. 

  • No todo lo que brilla es oro.  – Not everything that shines is gold (literally)
  • Lo que quiere decir es que …What he means to say is…
  • Lo que pasó ayer fue un accidente.What happened yesterday was an accident.
  • Le despidieron a Juan, lo cual va a ser un problema. – They fired Juan, which is going to be a problem.

As you can see, not every example has the same equivalent in English. Here, Lo is always replacing something, but that something isn’t one specific identifiable noun. 

“No todo lo que brilla es oro”
“No todo lo que brilla es oro”. Image by Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash

To take a deeper look, the key to understanding these phrases is that, unlike the English “what / that”, que is not a pronoun, it’s only a connector. Look at the second example. “What he means to say is…” The word “what” functions as a relative pronoun.

But in Spanish, since que can’t do that, we add “Lo”. That’s how we get phrases like “lo que quiere decir” and Spanish sayings such as “No todo lo que brilla es oro”. 

If you’re not a Spanish grammar expert, that’s okay. These things take time, try to just start paying attention to when other people use Lo, and you’ll start catching on, too! 

Lo de…

Just like we talked about with Lo + adjectives, we can make a similar structure with Lo de + nouns. Before we explain it too much, let’s look at these examples of how to use Lo in Spanish:

  • Lo de ayer fue un accidente.The thing from yesterday was an accident
  • Resulta que lo de las niñas japonesas era todo falso. – Turns out that thing / that story about the Japanese girls was all fake. 
  • Los padres deben saber lo del colegio. – The parents should know about the thing at school. 

So as you can tell, you can use “Lo de” to refer to something that both the speaker and the listener know about, without needing to repeat everything.

So, out of context, these sentences seem strange, but in context, you can use Lo de naturally in a Spanish sentence and both people understand. For example, I could tell you, “Ahora entiendes lo de cómo usar la palabra lo, ¿no?

Other Phrases and Expressions using Lo in Spanish

Finally, there are a ton of expressions using the word Lo. Don’t get too worked up on trying to understand why they are there, just remember that they need to be in these phrases. Here are some of the most common ones:

Spanish English
Por lo general In general
Por lo visto Apparently
Por lo menos At least
Por lo tanto Therefore / So
A lo largo de Throughout 

As you can see, a lot of these expressions are connectors and are mostly used in formal speech, making them great to really improve your fluency when speaking (just another perk of knowing how to use Lo!)

1. Por lo general

You can use por lo general just like you would in any English sentence. In fact, there’s a synonym “en general” that functions the same way, too. This one is definitely the easiest to remember. 

 2. Por lo visto

This is typically used to say that something “apparently” happens, although it’s not usually used so sarcastically. Another expression that means the same thing here is “se ve que”, as in “one can see that…”. 

3. Por lo menos

Generally, por lo menos is used exactly the same way as in English, too. Seeing a pattern here? All these expressions are pretty similar to English, so you have no excuse not to remember this simple list of 5 ways to use Lo in Spanish.

These two little Spanish prepositions remain as one of the most elusive concepts in Spanish Grammar until we created this comprehensive guide to break them down for you. Check out our article on por vs para.

4. Por lo tanto

This is a great connector to know. When you’re learning Spanish, you need connectors and filler words to help combine your sentences and speak more fluently; this connector will do that for you.

You can also say “Por lo cual” if you want a throwback to those lovely relative pronouns. 

It means “so” or “therefore”, and it is a slightly more formal connector. But only slightly, you’ll definitely hear people say this more often than you’ll hear “therefore”. So make sure you write this one down!

5. A lo largo de

This use of Lo translates to “throughout”, but only when we’re referring to time. For example, “a lo largo de la historia, hubo muchos cambios”. So this is a helpful one too, especially when you’re talking about the past. 

"A lo largo de" is a common phrase in Spanish used in formal speech. Image by Matheus Bertelli via Pexels

Lo importante es estudiar

All that’s left now is to keep practicing! Lo can be overwhelming at first, but try taking it one step at a time. Practice using just one or two types of Lo when you’re learning Spanish, then move on to the next one. 

A good idea is to memorize a couple of expressions, then start using “Lo + adjective” like, “Lo mejor es…”, “lo bueno es…”, etc. 

This way you’ll have it under control in no time. And if you want to practice, go ahead and sign up for a free private class or a 7-day free trial of our group classes so you can show us todo lo que aprendiste.

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