Unit 13: Past subjunctive, informal commands, translation considerations (part 3)

13.1 The Neuter Article lo

Besides masculine and feminine, Spanish also has a neuter gender. You have already seen examples of this in the demonstrative pronouns, esto, eso and aquello, which refer to concepts, ideas, abstracts or nouns with no antecedent. While masculine nouns and pronouns often end in –o, the neuter gender always does.

The neuter definite article lo combines with the masculine singular form of the adjective to translate, for example, as “the good part,” “the bad thing,” etc.

Lo bueno es que ya no tienen que vivir en esa ciudad peligrosa. The good thing is that you no longer have to live in that dangerous city.
Lo malo es que no sabrás hablar el idioma. The bad part is that you won’t know how to speak the language.
Lo triste es que lo echo de menos tanto. The sad thing is that I miss him so much.
Los verbos fueron lo más difícil del examen. The verbs were the most difficult part of the exam.

Therefore, when you see lo followed by an adjective, add a word such as “thing,” “part,” or “aspect” to your translation.

Lo is also followed by past participles in the masculine singular form to translate as “what has been” + past participle:

Lo dicho es desafortunado. What has been said is unfortunate.
Lo perdido no se puede recuperar. What has been lost cannot be recovered.
Lo aprendido a menudo se olvida. What has been learned is often forgotten.

Lo also may be followed by any form of an adjective or adverb, plus que, to render the English “how” plus adjective or adverb:

No creerán lo bien que Asensio habla catalán. You (pl.)/They will not believe how well Asensio speaks Catalan.
Verás lo hermosas que son las playas puertorriqueñas. You will see how beautiful the Puerto Rican beaches are.

Before the verbs ser and estar, lo may appear as a predicate, seemingly a direct object (although these three verbs are intransitive and therefore do not admit, technically, direct objects). In these cases, lo is never translated literally and usually not at all.

-¿Están listos?

-Sí, lo estamos.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes, we are.”

-¿Tu padre es ingeniero?

-Sí, lo es.

“Is your father an engineer?”

“Yes, he is (one).”

With haber, any form of the direct object pronoun may appear, but it is not usually translated, or, if so, not literally:

-¿Hay impuestos?
-Sí, los hay.
“Are there taxes?”

“Yes, there are (some).”

-¿Había suficiente tiempo?

-No. no lo había.

“Was there enough time?”

“No, there wasn’t.”

-¿Hay decisiones que tomar?

-Sí, las hay.

“Are there decisions to make?”

“Yes, there are (some).”

Lo appears in certain idioms, some of which you have seen in this text:

a lo mejor maybe, perhaps, at best
lo más pronto posible as soon as possible
a lo lejos in the distance
por lo visto apparently, evidently
lo de menos the least of it

Also remember that the meaning of lo que at the beginning of a sentence or when it joins two clauses is “what” or “that which,” while lo cual or lo que, preceded by a comma, mean “which”:

Lo que debes hacer es aprender la gramática. What you should do is (to) learn the grammar.
El gerente nos dijo lo que queríamos oír. The manager told us what we wanted to hear.
Hay que entregar los trabajos mañana, lo cual (lo que) no será fácil para todos. It’s necessary to hand in the term papers tomorrow, which will not be easy for everyone.

¡Ojo! Spanish has a little-used neuter subject pronoun in the third person, ello. It refers to an idea concept, abstract, or an unknown object and has no grammatical antecedent: Ello es que no hay posibilidad de ganar. (“The fact is that there’s no possibility of winning.”)

Somewhat more common is the prepositional object ello, which refers to the same as the subject pronoun elloNo quisieron hablar más de ello. (“They refused to talk more about it.”)


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