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Ello vs Eso

What does “ello” mean in Spanish? Why don’t we just use “eso”? Let’s explore this strange pronoun and how it helps make Spanish so different from English.

Full Podcast Episode


Vas a estar en ello.Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.Today we’re going to explore some interesting things about pronouns that tend to be very tricky for English speakers because they don’t work the same way that English works. And we’ll start with something about the word todo.So far, we’ve used todo and todos in a few different ways. Sometimes todos simply means “everyone”, as in “everyone is here” or todos están aquí. And sometimes todo, without the S, simply means “everything”, as in “everything is here”, or todo está aquí.Other times, todo and todos can mean “all”. In those cases, the pronoun has to match the thing it’s describing, and then we also typically put an article between todo and the noun. For example, “all the houses” is todas las cosas, and “all the light” is toda la luz.But what about the word “every” in English? For example, “every table needs a chair”? There are actually three ways to translate “every table” into Spanish. First of all, we can rephrase it as “all the tables”, or todas las mesas. But in this case, we’re trying to single out each individual table. So we’re likely to use cada, which technically means “each”. So what we’re really saying is:

Each table needs a chair.Cada mesa necesita una silla.

But the word “every” in cases like this doesn’t always have to be rephrased. The word todo is actually rarely used to mean “every”. So it would sound like this:

Every table needs a chair.Toda mesa necesita una silla.

Now, be careful about simply starting to translate “every” as todo like this. It’s actually not used this way that often. In fact, almost every time you see the word “every” in English, it will be translated as cada in Spanish, literally “each”. So as an example, “every time” is almost always translated as cada vez, not toda vez.Other times, the word “every” will be rephrased and then translated as todos los or todas las, literally “all the”. For example, the English phrase “every day” is almost always translated as todos los días, literally “all the days”.So for now, just take note that todo is sometimes used to mean “every”, but we’re not going to practice that a lot in our quizzing; instead, we’ll typically use cada or todos los.Speaking of phrases that have more than one translation, let’s talk about how to say “both” in Spanish. So far, we’ve been practicing this as los dos or las dos. This is the most common way to do it. So for example:

Both guys were at the party.Los dos chicos estaban en la fiesta.

However, there’s also a word for “both”, the word ambos. So this exact same sentence could be:

Ambos chicos estaban en la fiesta.

And then this word can be feminine, too. Check this out:

Which seat is mine? I’ll take both.¿Cuál silla es la mía? Tomaré ambas.

So we could have said tomaré las dos, but sometimes “both” is translated as ambos or ambas instead.Let’s get some practice with ambos and ambas.

I talked to both girls.Hablé con ambas chicas.

The law says that both(m) can be here.La ley dice que ambos pueden estar aquí.

She doesn’t want me to stay with both women.No quiere que me quede con ambas mujeres.

I have two sons, and both went to school.Tengo dos hijos, y ambos fueron a la escuela.

Next, let’s talk about situations similar to this one:

I have some of the food and she has the rest.Yo tengo algo de la comida y ella tiene el resto.

So in this situation, we’re talking about a mass noun, “the food”. And when we say that what she has is “the rest”, we use the noun el resto. We’re talking about whatever is left over or excluded from the first thing we talked about.However, el resto is typically used for uncountable things. For things that are countable, you’re more typically going to use the word demás, which is just like the words de and más, but put together. Here’s an example:

One boy left and the rest stayed.Un niño se fue y los demás se quedaron.

So the phrase here was los demás. Here’s an example that uses the feminine version, las demás:

I only know this house, not the rest.Solo conozco esta casa, no las demás.

So how do you know whether to use demás rather than resto? Well, let’s look back at these English sentences. In both cases, instead of “the rest”, we could have said “the others”. “One boy left and the others stayed.” “I only know this house, not the others”. So try it yourself in this next example:

One of my sisters is here, but the others are at home.Una de mis hermanas está aquí, pero las demás están en casa.

Now this begs the question of why we didn’t translate this as las otras. The English in this one was “the others”, and we’ve learned that the Spanish for “others” is otros or otras. But those words are not typically used to talk about the remaining amount of something. This is how demás is used: Specifically in cases where you could either say “the rest” or “the others” in English. If both of those terms work, you’ll use demás in Spanish.Let’s practice using los demás and las demás. I’m also going to throw in some uses of resto and otros so that you can get some practice choosing between them; remember that you’ll use resto for mass nouns, and you’ll use los otros only when you couldn’t say “the rest” in English.

The others also have a right.Los demás también tienen derecho.

These(f) have changed, but not the rest(f).Estas han cambiado, pero las demás no.

You can have these things, but not the rest.Puedes tener estas cosas, pero no las demás.

I have a bit of water here, but she has the rest.Tengo un poco de agua aquí, pero ella tiene el resto.

These are different from the other ones we saw yesterday.Estos son diferentes de los otros que vimos ayer.

You don’t have to change your mind like the rest.No tienes que cambiar de idea como los demás.

Our next word is related to the word cualquier. Here’s how we’ve been using that word:

Any person could do it.Cualquier persona podría hacerlo.

So here we’ve used it right before a noun, as an indefinite adjective. But check out this sentence in English:

Any of those people could do it.

So in English we’re saying “any of those people”. The word “any” isn’t directly attached to a noun, so it’s not an adjective; instead, it’s a type of pronoun. And the Spanish word for this is cualquiera, which is just like cualquier but with an A at the end. So here’s the Spanish translation:

Cualquiera de esas personas podría hacerlo.

This word, cualquiera, doesn’t change based on the gender of the noun involved. So here’s an example using masculine nouns:

I would like to have any of those books.Me gustaría tener cualquiera de esos libros.

Notice that in both of these phrases, “any of those people” or “any of those books”, we could replace the word “any” with “whichever”. So we could say “whichever of those people” or “whichever of those books”. In fact, the word “whichever” is sometimes translated as cualquiera, but specifically when it’s not attached to a noun. Here’s another example:

Which of those houses would you like? // Whichever.¿Cuál de esas casas te gustaría? // Cualquiera.

Also note that we won’t use cualquiera in a negative situation such as this one:

I don’t have any of those books.

In this case, we’ll use ninguno.

No tengo ninguno de esos libros.

Let’s get some practice with this.

Anyone can go.Cualquiera puede ir.

Which one do you like? // Any.¿Cuál te gusta? // Cualquiera.

You have been changing any of them.Has estado cambiando cualquiera de ellos.

Any of them has enough strength for this.Cualquiera de ellos tiene suficiente fuerza para esto.

We have one more word to learn, but to learn it, let’s first review our prepositional pronouns a little bit. Remember that we use these whenever a pronoun follows a preposition. So for example:

The book is for you.El libro es para ti.

So this word, ti, is from our set of prepositional pronouns. We could exchange this with any of the others: ella, ellas, él, ellos, mí, or nosotros.But here’s a sentence that might trip you up:

It’s my box; put my things in it.

So this starts with es mi caja. But then how do we talk about putting things in “it”? Remember, there isn’t really any specific word for “it” in Spanish. But when “it” in English comes right after a preposition, we’ll choose the appropriate Spanish prepositional pronoun based on the gender of the thing that “it” is. In this case, the caja is feminine, so we’ll choose ella.

Es mi caja; pon mis cosas en ella.

This sounds pretty weird to English speakers, because it sounds like “put my things in her”. But this is one case where the pronouns that we normally consider personal are used for inanimate objects. Try it yourself in this next example:

It’s your car; you can leave your things in it.Es tu coche; puedes dejar tus cosas en él.

Literally “you can leave your things in him”.And this also applies when the prepositional pronoun is “them”. You’ll choose either ellas or ellos. So for example:

They are the two biggest cities, but I haven’t lived in them.Son las dos ciudades más grandes, pero no he vivido en ellas.

Let’s get some practice with this.

Do you have the car? You have to stay with it.¿Tienes el auto? Tienes que quedarte con él.

Which house do you want? I don’t want any of them.¿Qué casa quieres? Yo no quiero ninguna de ellas.

He wants salt, but I want my food without it.Él quiere sal, pero yo quiero mi comida sin ella.

Have you seen the cars? She didn’t change the things in them.¿Has visto los autos? Ella no cambió las cosas en ellos.

OK so we’ve been practicing using prepositional pronouns when we know the gender of the noun. But what about this sentence?

It's not what I meant to do, but I’m happy with it.

So we’ll start with no es lo que quise hacer. But how do we say that we’re happy with “it”? The “it” in this sentence doesn’t have a noun specified, so there’s no known gender.In this case, we’re going to choose a pronoun that doesn’t have a gender. There are very few of these, but of course we learned a couple early on; the words eso and esto don’t have a gender, so you can say “that” and “this” without a specific gender. There’s one more non-gendered pronoun to learn, and it’s the word ello, spelled e-l-l-o. This word is not used very often, and it’s primarily used as a prepositional pronoun in situations like this one.

It's not what I meant to do, but I’m happy with it.No es lo que quise hacer, pero estoy feliz con ello.

Here’s another example:

When he wants something, he would do anything for it.Cuando quiere algo, haría cualquier cosa por ello.

So in this sentence, the pronoun algo actually doesn’t have a gender, and ello is a good parallel to it.Now note that ello is actually quite rare compared to other pronouns. In fact, even in situations similar to the ones you just heard, it’s very common just to use eso or esto instead of ello. But let’s explore some idiomatic contexts where it actually does sound better in Spanish to use ello. This first example uses the Spanish equivalent of “I’m going for it.”

It’s something new, but I’m going for it.Es algo nuevo, pero voy por ello.

She tried to do it while she had the strength for it.Trató de hacerlo mientras tenía fuerza para ello.

Also, here’s a fun idiom: In English, sometimes when there’s a secret or an inside joke, we talk about being “in on it”. If you think about it, that’s a bit weird because we’re using two prepositions in a row: “in on”. In Spanish, this idiom is sometimes translated as estar en ello, literally “to be in it”, where “it” doesn’t really refer to any noun. So for example:

I guess it’s a secret; we’re not in on it.Supongo que es un secreto; no estamos en ello.

Let’s get some practice with ello.

I’m working on it.Estoy trabajando en ello.

I never had trouble with it.Nunca tuve problemas con ello.

You don’t understand because you’re not in on it.No entiendes porque no estás en ello.

I wanted to stay, but I couldn’t because of it.Quería quedarme, pero no pude por ello.

She doesn’t know the system, she isn’t in on it.No sabe el sistema, no está en ello.

For more practice with any of this, feel free to dig deeper at LCSPodcast.com/198. Or if you’re ready, let’s go on to today’s final quiz.

If I stay here, I can’t change this.Si me quedo aquí, no puedo cambiar esto.

Do you know which is the best mode for this? I think any will be fine.¿Sabes cuál es el mejor modo para esto? Creo que cualquiera estará bien.

We don’t know what it is, but she stayed with it.No sabemos qué es, pero ella se quedó con ello.

Both men asked you to be in silence.Ambos hombres te pidieron estar en silencio.

I don’t want there to be food left, so both have to help.No quiero que quede comida, así que ambos tienen que ayudar.

Do you see that door? Wait near it.¿Ves esa puerta? Espera cerca de ella.

It’s the cars, we are staying near them.Son los autos, nos quedamos cerca de ellos.

She isn’t in it because of you.No está en ello por ti.

May you have a lot of freedom!¡Que tengas mucha libertad!

I don’t change even if the rest tell me to change.No cambio aunque los demás me digan que cambie.

Both things are good, calm and freedom.Ambas cosas son buenas, calma y libertad.

I see some of my friends, but I don’t see the others.Veo a algunos de mis amigos, pero no veo a los demás.

She has to stay and you have to stay; both have to stay.Ella tiene que quedarse y tú tienes que quedarte, ambos tienen que quedarse.

The rest of the people don't have to stay.Las demás personas no tienen que quedarse.

If she changes this, we stay.Si cambia esto, nos quedamos.

I think the rest of the things will be a hazard.Creo que las demás cosas serán un peligro.

She hasn’t stayed because of it.No se ha quedado por ello.

Stay and change this.Quédate y cambia esto.

Have you seen this program? I had never heard of it.¿Has visto este programa? Nunca había oído de él.

She’s in it for the food, not for the service.Está en ello por la comida, no por el servicio.

There is one problem left.Queda un problema.

If you stay, you can have any that you want.Si te quedas, puedes tener cualquiera que quieras.

There are three left and they don’t change them.Quedan tres y ellos no los cambian.

For more practice with all of this, go to LCSPodcast.com/198.In tomorrow’s episode, we’ll learn some fun new physical nouns, including the words for “camera”, “letter”, and “gift”.This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Ximena Lama-Rondón. Our music was performed by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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