Well, who would have thought that in an Essential Spanish course we would spend so much time on the meaning of the word ‘lo’? It’s one of those fiddly little words that give us so much trouble. In fact if we could abolish any word from Spanish that contained two letters or less, we poor English speakers would be a lot happier!
The task at hand this month is to look at the word ‘lo’ when it means ‘it’ and how it can be tacked on to the end of other words. ‘Lo’ meaning ‘it’ can stand on its own in many sentences, but they are a bit more complicated to explain, so for now we will just see how it can be linked onto the end of the infinitive of verbs. After that we will see how ‘la’, ‘los’ and ‘las’ can work in the same way, and what they mean.
In the last article we saw the following sentences:
Quiero beberlo – I want to drink it
Necesito limpiarlo – I need to clean it
Puedo verlo – I can see it
‘Lo’ here is replacing something that it already understood. Its grammatical label is a pronoun, something that goes instead of a noun. For example if we say: ‘I want to drink it’, the speaker and listener must already know what ‘it’ stands for, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. In fact the full sentence was ‘Quiero beber el vino’ – I want to drink the wine.
What I haven’t yet told you is that ‘lo’ in fact refers to things that are masculine and singular (here we go again!). ‘El vino’ is a masculine singular word, which is why ‘lo’ is the correct pronoun to replace it.
If we wish to say ‘it’ about something that is feminine and singular, we use the word ‘la’. Here are two examples which should make this clear:
Voy a cocinar la tortilla – I’m going to cook the tortilla
Voy a cocinarla – I’m going to cook it
No puedo cerrar la ventana – I can’t close the window
No puedo cerrarla – I can’t close it
To complete this tale, we can now look briefly at how to make the plural of ‘it’; that is ‘them’, using ‘los’ when referring to masculine plural and ‘las’ for feminine plural. Again clear examples ought to do the trick:
Me gusta ver las películas – I like watching the films
Me gusta verlas – I like watching them
¿Necesito firmar los papeles? – Do I need to sign the papers?
¿Necesito firmarlos? – Do I need to sign them?
I think that is all relatively easy to understand in theory. The big challenge of course is remembering when you’re speaking, whether what you are referring to is masculine or feminine, or even singular or plural. This actually takes all of us a very long time and we make plenty of mistakes along the way. You should never worry about this as you will always be understood by using the masculine form ‘lo’. Remember the whole point is that both speaker and listener already know what is being referred to!
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are now available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s brand new “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.