Spanish Use of Ello and Lo

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What Does Ello Mean?

The neuter form "ello" means (it) or (that) and is often used in written texts of a more formal nature. It is hardly ever heard in spoken language. Usually, people will use the demonstrative pronoun "eso" instead.

Ello is always used to refer to an idea or situation, rather than a tangible noun.

What is the difference between ello and él?

Ello is most frequently used after prepositions. It translates it when this word does not refer to any specific noun or pronoun. Compare:

  • No sé nada de él. I don’t know anything about him/it. (i.e. some male person or some masculine noun)


  • No sé nada de ello. I don’t know anything about it. (the situation or problem in general)


Lo has various uses. It may be:

(a) a third-person masculine Direct Object personal pronoun as in lo admiro - I admire him/it.

(b) the Direct Object counterpart of ello. This is discussed in the next section.

(c) the neuter article, discussed after the next section.

Lo as a neuter third-person pronoun

This is the Direct Object form of ello and it is used to translate it when this does not refer to any noun or pronoun:

  • Su padre había muerto, pero él no lo sabía todavía. His father had died but he didn’t know (it) yet.

Lo is usually required after ser and estar when these refer back to something already mentioned in the sentence:

  • Dicen que es tonta, pero no lo es. They say she’s stupid, but she isn’t.
  • Parece que estoy contento pero no lo estoy. It looks as if I’m pleased, but I’m not.

Lo used to make abstract nouns from adjectives.

Lo + a masculine singular adjective usually corresponds to an English phrase consisting of adjective + thing:

  • Lo increíble fue que... The incredible thing was...
  • Lo más importante… the most important thing...
  • Lo mejor sería no mencionarlo. The best thing to do would be not to mention it.

Lo + adverbs or adjectives to translate how... + adjective or adverb

Lo + an adverb, or lo + an adjective that agrees in number and gender, conveniently translates how after words implying admiration, blame, surprise, knowledge, etc.

  • Me sorprende lo bien que lo hizo. I’m surprised at how well he did it.
  • Mira lo blancas que están estas sábanas. Look how white these sheets are.
  • Ahora me doy cuenta de lo difícil que es. Now I realize how difficult it is.

The word cuán is occasionally used instead in literary styles, but it is very rare in spoken Spanish:

Ahora me doy cuenta de cuán difícil es. Now I realize how difficult it is.

Lo más orlo menos + adverb can be used to transíate the idea of aspossible:

  • Hágalo lo mejor posible. Do it as well as possible.
  • Lo comió lo más deprisa que pudo. He ate it as fast as he could.

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