How to Use ‘Lo Que’ and ‘Lo De’ in Your Conversations
As a Spanish professor, I must admit that it surprised me the first time a student asked me about the difference between lo que and lo de. I hadn’t considered it a grammar dilemma but then I realized that it’s most likely a problem for native English-speaking students. Why?
In both cases, you use them to replace other words without saying exactly what you mean and you can also translate them with similar English expressions “the thing that,” or “that thing about.”
However, don’t be mistaken. Although both phrases use the Spanish pronoun lo and look alike, you use them in different situations and in different grammatical combinations.
I’ll help you. I’ll explain when and how to use them and I’ll give you short formulas with which you can’t be wrong. You’ll also have an opportunity to check your knowledge about lo que and lo de and I’ll tell you where you can keep on practicing your skills.
Let’s do it!
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When and how to use lo que
Every January is the same: you realize you’ve eaten too much over Christmas and you start looking for immediate solutions. It probably happened to you and it definitely happened to me. This year, I remembered the old adage: eres lo que comes (you are what you eat) and I made a firm decision that now, I’m really going to change my habits.
And here we have our first use of lo que!
Let’s take a look at when and how to use lo que:
1. To mean something without giving it a name – “What,” “the thing that”
If you look at the English translation of the sentence above (“You are what you eat”), the Spanish version does not sound that logical if you’re a beginner learner. I have students that would keep saying eres que comes instead of eres lo que comes translating the English sentence word by word.
You need to remember a simple rule: if you want to say “what” used in English as a pronoun, use lo que followed by a conjugated verb. Lo que in this case means “the thing that,” and you use it to refer to an abstract idea.
Sabes lo que haces.
You know what you are doing.
Escuché lo que dijo.
I heard what he said.
¿Entiendes lo que quiere decir?
Do you understand what she wants to say?
Lo que quería saber primero era cuánto tiempo iba a tardar.
What I wanted to find out first was how long it was going to take.
2. To indicate something that has just been mentioned – “which”
Lo que also introduces another clause or sentence to which it relates and explains. (If you want to learn more about clauses, have a look at All About Adverbial Clauses in Spanish.) You’ll translate lo que in this case to the relative pronoun “which.” You can use it as a synonym to lo cual. Mind the comma before lo que here, the same as in English!
A Pedro le dieron un carro, lo que le hizo muy feliz. (lo cual le hizo muy feliz)
They gave Pedro a car, which made him very happy.
Mis papás me prohibieron salir, lo que nunca entendí. (lo cual nunca entendí)
My parents forbade me to go out, which I never understood.
Check out this song using lo que: ‘Lo que te di’ (What I Gave You) by Marc Antony
When and how to use lo de
Do you remember my January struggles? ¿Lo de la dieta? (That thing about diet?) ¿Lo de adelgazar? (That thing about losing weight?) Well, I’m still there but let’s go back to our grammar dilemmas.
This phrase looks similar to lo que in its first meaning. However, it’s not the “the thing that” but “that thing about,” and you’ll use it in totally different combinations in terms of grammar.
- Use lo que with a conjugated verb.
- Use lo de with an infinitive, noun, and even an adverb.
Lo de la dieta (noun)
Lo de adelgazar (infinitive)
Let’s look at some examples of how to use this phrase with different parts of speech.
With an infinitive
Lo de casarse, ¿es verdad?
That thing about getting married, is it true?
With a proper noun
Lo de Juan no puede ser cierto.
That thing about Juan cannot be true.
With a noun
Tenemos que hablar de lo de la casa.
We have to talk about (that thing about) the house.
With an adverb of time or place
¿Escuchaste lo de ayer?
Did you hear about yesterday?
If you need a quick reminder on what are nouns, infinitive, and adverbs check out The 8 Parts of Speech.
Ok, now you know now the technical part of using lo de but what about its meaning?
Here’s a look at three situations where you’ll use it:
1. That thing (about) / that idea / that story / that situation
As we explored in the examples above, lo de can refer to “that thing” or “that idea.” Let’s see some more examples:
Lo de mudarme fue un error.
That idea about moving was a mistake.
¿Te acuerdas de lo de mañana? ¡Qué no se te olvide!
Do you remember that thing about tomorrow? Don’t forget it!
Pásame lo de atrás.
Pass me that thing from the back.
2. Things / stuff
In some other situations you can translate it simply as “things” or “stuff.” Take a look:
No tengo espacio para poner mi laptop, lo de Juan está por todos lados.
I don’t have space to put my laptop, Juan’s stuff is everywhere.
Lo de dibujar está en el cajón.
The things to draw are in the drawer.
3. Someone’s place.
In some cases, it can even mean somebody’s house or place. In Argentina there’s a well known chain of fast food restaurants with delicious empanadas called Lo de Jacinto.
Vamos a lo de mi madre, me dijo que había hecho un pastel.
Let’s go to my mother’s (house), she told me she made a cake.
Voy a lo de mi amigo a pasar el fin de semana.
I’m going to my friend’s (house) for the weekend.
Now that you easily distinguish when to use lo que and when lo de, let’s try some exercises. Just remember:
lo que + conjugated verb OR clause
lo de + noun OR infinitive OR adverb
Complete the sentences with lo que and lo de.
- _______ realmente le preocupaba ero lo triste que estaba la niña.
- María no me quiso decir _______ sabía.
- ¿Cómo ves _______ organizar algo este fin de semana?
- No tenía mucho dinero pero les di _______ tenía.
- La carta revelaba _______ estaban planeando.
- _______ Diego no tiene ninguna solución.
- Parecía más feliz que de costumbre, _______ se debía a la visita de su amigo.
- ¿Qué te parece _______ irnos a Machu Pichu este verano?
- Me encanta la lluvia, _______ para algunos es extraño.
- Olvídate de _______ la semana pasada.
- Tienes que estudiar _______ haga falta
- Tienes que estudiar _______ mañana.
- Compra _______ sea.
Click here for the answers and the translation of sentences.
Wasn’t that easy? You solved one more of your grammar dilemmas and advanced on your personal journey towards fluency in Spanish. To sound more like a native speaker you’ll need to practice your newly acquired skills in spontaneous conversations. Smart people say that you need to use a new structure or word at least twice to make it yours. Let’s do it! Sign up for a free class with one of our professional and friendly teachers from Guatemala to practice lo que and lo de and tell them lo que aprendiste (what you’ve learned).
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English translation of the sentences with answers.
- What really concerned him was how sad the girl was.
- María didn’t want to tell me what she knew.
- What do you think about organizing something (the idea to organize something) this weekend?
- I didn’t have much money but I gave them what I had.
- The letter showed clearly what they were planning.
- DIego’s thing (situation) has no solution.
- She seemed happier than usual, which was because of her friend’s visit.
- Hou about (the idea of) going to Machu Pichu this summer?
- I love rain, which for some people seems strange.
- Forget about (that thing from) last week.
- (That situation with) going out at night is about to finish, I have to study for the exams.
- You have to study what it takes.
- You have to study that thing for tomorrow.
- Buy whatever.
- Buy the stuff for tomorrow.
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