How to Use ‘Lo’ as the Neuter Gender in Spanish
While the neuter gender in Spanish is not as prominent as it is in other languages—like English or German—it’s still an essential grammatical element for Spanish learners to learn and use when needed.
Let’s examine first the three grammatical genders that exist in English:
Each of these genders is associated with a subject pronoun and possessive pronoun:
- Masculine: He / his
- Feminine: She / her(s)
- Neuter: It / its
If a noun or pronoun in English is obviously male or female, then it can be determined to be masculine or feminine (respectively). Otherwise, the noun is neuter. A good example is “rooster” (masculine), “hen” (feminine), and “chicken” (neuter).
Take note! Grammatical gender is a linguistic property, and doesn’t have any relation with the biological and sociological sense of gender.
Now, the genders in Spanish work a little bit differently. In this blog post we’ll cover the many uses of the neuter gender lo, as well as other neuter gendered words such as aquello and ello.
Let’s explore them in detail!
Grammatical Gender in Spanish
Most Spanish nouns have a lexical gender, either masculine or feminine, and most of the nouns who refer to male humans or animals are grammatically masculine, while those who refer to females are grammatically feminine.
La gallina / una gallina (feminine)
El gallo / un gallo (masculine)
The feminine definite article is la for singular and las for plural, while the masculine definite article is el for singular and los for plural.
The feminine indefinite article is una for singular and unas for plural, while the masculine indefinite article is un for singular and unos for plural.
Learn more rules about Spanish nouns and their gender: Nouns in Spanish: Everything a Beginner Wants to Know
Neuter Gender in Spanish: Lo
The neuter gender in Spanish is necessary when you refer to an unknown object or subject—or, you may know what you’re talking about, but don’t refer to it directly.
If instead you refer directly to the object, subject, or idea, then the neuter gender becomes irrelevant and you must use a masculine or feminine gender.
The article lo is used for the neuter gender in Spanish, like “it” in English.
Lo is one of the most flexible articles Spanish. Not only do you use it as a neuter gender article, but also as a masculine direct object. If you want to know more about the different uses of lo in Spanish, please check this great article on The Low-Down on ‘Lo’ in Spanish.
One of the most important uses of lo for the neuter gender in Spanish is that it can turn adjectives or adverbs into nouns that become the subject of a sentence. What’s more, lo can describe abstract or not clearly-defined objects (similar to “thing”).
Lo mejor es disfrutar de la vida.
The best thing is to enjoy life.
Lo importante es no darse por vencido.
The important thing is not to give up.
1. Lo + Adjective
To use an adjective with lo, the adjective must be in its “masculine” form.
The interesting (thing)
2. Lo + Possessive Pronoun
Possessive pronouns express ownership—they exist in either adjective form or noun form in Spanish. When paired with lo, the possessive pronoun acts as a noun of an abstract idea. Although it’s singular, the pronoun lo can stand for more than one specific thing, as long as it’s not a specific thing with a gender.
The possessive pronouns to use with the neuter gender in Spanish are: lo mío, lo tuyo, lo nuestro, lo suyo.
Lo mío es la música.
My thing is músic.
Sé tú mismo, haz lo tuyo.
Be yourself, do your thing.
Lo nuestro es el arte.
Our thing is art.
3. Lo + Ordinal Numbers
Ordinal numbers express the order or rank of an object’s position in relation to others. These include: primero (first), segundo (second), tercero (third). Using lo with ordinal numbers results in saying “the (first, second, third, etc.) thing” to do.
Learn more: Ordinal Numbers in Spanish
Lo primero que se debe hacer es limpiar el área de trabajo.
The first thing to do is to clean the work area.
Lo tercero a discutir es el presupuesto.
The third thing to discuss is the budget.
4. Lo + Relative Pronouns
Relative pronouns introduce relative clauses, which allow you to provide additional information without starting a new sentence. Some relative pronouns to use with the neuter gender in Spanish are: que (what) ,and cual (which).
Lo que hablamos hoy es un secreto.
What we talk about today is a secret.
Se mojó mucho ayer por la lluvia, lo cual le enfermó.
She got very wet yesterday because of the rain, which made her sick.
5. Lo as a Direct Object
Lo is also a direct object of a verb. In Spanish, you can identify the direct object as articles that replace a noun: la, lo, las and los. Those are gendered articles, but with certain neuter gender nouns, when you use lo as a direct object, it translates to “it”. This “it” doesn’t refer to an object but instead to an early-made statement you are referring to or answering to.
Persona 1: Ayer vimos a un famoso en el centro comercial.
Persona 2: No lo creo.
Person 1: Yesterday we saw a famous person in the mall.
Person 2: I don’t believe it.
Persona 1: Sabes que cuentas conmigo, ¿verdad?
Persona 2: Lo sé.
Person 1: You know you can count on me, right?
Person 2: I know (it).
Persona 1: ¿Me crees si te digo que no dormí anoche?
Persona 2: Lo creo.
Person 1: Do you believe me if I tell you I didn’t sleep last night?
Person 2: I believe it.
Neuter Gender Demonstrative Pronouns
Some demonstrative pronouns exist in neuter gender in Spanish. They include:
- Esto (this)
- Eso (that)
- Aquello (that)
Notice that these pronouns are unaccented, have almost the same meaning, and end in -o.
In this case, these neuter pronouns refer to an idea, a concept, or an unknown object—not to a specific object or person.
Haz aquello que te pedí, por favor.
Do that thing I asked of you, please.
Di eso que me dijiste al venir.
Say that you told me when you came.
Persona 1: No olvides esto que te he dicho. Es un buen consejo para el resto de tu vida.
Persona 2: Gracias papá, no olvidaré.
Person 1: Don’t forget what I have told you. It’s good advice for the rest of your life.
Person 2: Thanks dad, I won’t forget it.
Neuter Gender in Spanish: Ello
Ello (“it” or “this”) is another common expression of the neuter gender in Spanish. It’s the neuter equivalent of subject pronouns el (he) and ella (she). Ello often refers to ambiguous, not clearly-defined situations or concepts instead of specific things.
Ello is fairly unusual to use these days and you might find it more often in literary works than in everyday conversations.
Y por ello, nunca volvimos a ir a la playa.
And because of this, we never went to the beach again.
Aprendimos a no hablar de ello para no molestarla.
We learn not to talk about it to not disturb her.
¡Lo que sigue es practicar!
The neuter gender in Spanish is a fun grammatical topic that even native Spanish speakers don’t thoroughly understand, even if they use it every day! It’s important to practice your new skills with others, especially in conversation. If you’re ready to talk to a professional, certified native Spanish-speaking teacher, sign up for a free class with us at Homeschool Spanish Academy! Join more than 24,000 monthly active students who are learning to speak fluent Spanish in their 1-on-1 online Spanish classes with our fun and talkative teachers from Guatemala.
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