What does "lo" mean in Spanish? (Part 2)

In part 1 of our series on the Spanish word "lo", we looked at its use as a neutral article. In part 2, we examine its use as a direct object pronoun. Understanding and mastering all the uses of "lo" is extremely important for all Spanish learners!

Mar 03, 2021
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Lo, in addition to being a neutral article (check out part one of our series on lo), also works as a direct object pronoun and it can also replace attributes or concepts. Let’s take a closer look at each of the uses of lo as a pronoun.

Use of lo as a pronoun

When the direct object is a masculine singular noun.

  • Él tiene un sobrino y lo ama mucho. (Lo = sobrino).
    He has a nephew and he loves him very much.
  • Compré un carro ayer pero apenas lo estoy usando hoy. (Lo= un carro).
    I bought a car yesterday but I’m only just using it today.

When we want to replace an idea or statement.

  • Él dijo que no quería ir a la fiesta, pero yo no lo sabía. (Lo= que no quería ir a la fiesta).
    He said he didn’t want to go to the party, but I didn’t know.
  • Ellos piensan que Dios no existe pero ella no lo cree así. (Lo= que Dios no existe).
    They think God doesn't exist but she doesn't think so.
  • No lo creo. (Lo = whatever was said before).
    I don’t think so.

When you want to refer to attributes or characteristics expressed with linking verbs such as ser, parecer, estar.

  • - Ella es muy bonita.
    She is very pretty.
    - Sí, lo es. (Lo = bonita).
    Yes, she is.
  • - No parece una buena idea.
    It doesn’t look like a good idea.
    - Es verdad, no lo parece. (Lo = buena)
    True. It doesn’t look like it.

When replacing neutral pronouns such as esto, eso, aquello, todo.

  • - ¿Quieres comprar esto?.
    Do you want to buy this?
    - No, solo lo estoy viendo pero no lo voy a comprar. (Lo = esto).
    No, I’m just looking [at it] but I’m not going to buy it.

Variations in the position of "lo" as a direct object pronoun

Note: The following rules also apply for all of the direct and indirect object pronouns, as well as for the reflexive pronouns.

Lo should always be placed right after the verb in the following situations:

When simple forms of the gerund or infinitive are being used.

  • No sé si logres algo regañándolo.
    I don’t know if you accomplish anything by scolding him.
  • Al verlo me enamoré.
    When I saw him, I fell in love.

When there is an impersonal sentence or an impersonal verbal periphrasis.

  • Hay que decírselo.
    We must tell him.
  • Conviene intentarlo.
    It is worth trying.
  • Sería bueno mirarlo.
    It would be nice to look at it.

When the verb is after a preposition.

  • Yo puedo reconocer a mi perro sin mirarlo, solo con tocarlo.
    I can recognize my dog without looking at him, just by touching him.
  • Ella se muere por verlo.
    She’s dying to see him.

When we use a compound tense, lo goes after "haber" if this auxiliary verb is not conjugated.

  • De haberlo sabido, no hubiera venido.
    If I’d known, I wouldn’t have come.
  • La revista no me aceptó el artículo por haberlo escrito sin censura.
    The magazine did not accept my article because it was written without censorship.

The pronoun may be prefixed or postponed when it is part of a verbal periphrasis.

  • Lo estoy buscando - Estoy buscándolo
    I’m looking for it.
  • Lo voy a llamar más tarde. - Voy a llamarlo más tarde.
    I’m going to call him later.

The pronoun must always appear before a verb conjugated in a personal form and which isn’t a part of a verbal periphrasis.

  • Ellos lo buscan en el cuarto.
    They look for it in the room.
  • Nosotros lo vimos pero no lo saludamos.
    We saw him but we didn’t say hi to him.

When to double the direct object

If the direct object appears before the verb, we must duplicate the direct object by using the pronoun.

  • A tu hermano lo vi en el cine.
    I saw your brother at the cinema.

The direct object is “tu hermano”, since it appears before the verb, we need the pronoun that corresponds to "it" which is lo.

  • Yo vi a tu hermano en el cine.
    I saw your brother at the cinema.

No need to use the direct object pronoun since the direct object appears explicitly after the verb.

Let's see another example with both options:

  • Las gaseosas las llevo yo. - Yo llevo las gaseosas.
    I’ll bring the soda.

Redundant “lo”

When we use the indefinite "todo" after the verb, it is possible to use lo before the verb to make a more emphatic phrase, although it’s not necessary:

  • (Lo) sabe todo.
    She knows it all
  • (Lo) vieron todo.
    They saw it all.
  • (Lo) contaron todo.
    They told everything.

This redundancy doesn't happen with the opposite word "nada", so avoid using lo with this word.

When the object of the phrase is the indefinite "uno", the use of lo before the verb is mandatory.

  • Si lo escuchan a uno llorar, piensan que son las hormonas.
    If they hear you cry, they think it’s the hormones.

No sé - no lo sé / ya veremos - ya lo veremos

With the verb "saber" it is possible to use lo when referring to an idea previously said. It is important to recognize that this previous idea has no gender or number, they’re usually actions or interrogative pronouns.This usually happens when we are giving an answer.

The use of lo in these sentences is optional, although using it sounds more emphatic.

  • - ¿Sabes quién es el nuevo jefe?
    Do you know who the new boss is?
    - No sé. - No lo sé. (Lo= quién)
    I don’t know.
  • - ¿Tu familia va a venir en Navidad?
    Is your family coming for Christmas?
    - No sé. - No lo sé. (Lo= si va a venir)
    I don’t know.

When the previous idea refers to an area of knowledge or a skill, then it is not correct to use lo in the answer.

  • - ¿Sabes nadar?
    Do you know how to swim?
    - No sé.
    I don’t know.
  • - ¿Ellos saben subjuntivo?
    Do they know subjunctive?
    - Sí saben.
    Yes, they know.

This is how you use lo as a pronoun. If you want to know how to use it as an article, go to our post “What does “lo” mean in Spanish? (part 1)”. If you want to practice what you learned in this class, check out our exercises!

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