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What does “lo” mean in Spanish?

The Spanish word “lo” is usually a HUGE headache for English speakers — but it won’t be for you! You’ll be using “lo” and “la” correctly after listening to this episode. Let’s get some good, active practice with the words for “him” and “her” in Spanish.

Full Podcast Episode


Him, her, it… it’s time to talk about lo.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

We spent most of last week emphasizing word categories, such as nouns and verbs. So what exactly is the word "him", as far as word categories are concerned? Well, it's sort of used like a noun, but it's not exactly the same as a general-purpose noun, because we can't always put it in place of other nouns. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

To see why, check out these two sentence examples:

  • Please bring food.
  • Food makes me happy.

So "food" is a noun, of course, which means that it's interchangeable with other nouns, including eso. Please bring eso. Eso makes me happy.

But the word "him" is a little pickier about how it's used. We CAN replace "food" with "him" in the first sentence: "Please bring him." OK, that's fine. But in the second sentence, replacing "food" with "him" would result in "him makes me happy"... That's a problem.

And this is because the word "him" is used in very specific ways. Check out this sentence:

  • He hugged him.

We have two words here that function as nouns: "He" and "him". You could replace either one with "food", or you could replace either one with eso. So why is one of them "he" and the other one "him"?

Technically speaking, it's because one of them is a subject and the other is a direct object. Direct objects are a whole subcategory of words that are used like the word "him" in English.

But they behave differently in Spanish than they do in English, which is why we're dedicating this entire episode to just the two Spanish words for "him" and "her". And we’ll start with the word for “him”, which is lo.

Before we go on, I'd like to point out that this is actually THE lesson that I get the most excited about when teaching Spanish to new students. See, direct objects are considered an extremely tricky topic, and very often students come to us having been troubled by these words, especially lo, for years. And then this exact lesson that you're about to listen to right now is what finally makes it all make sense for them. The point is: If you can get through this lesson, you can learn absolutely anything in Spanish. The sun is about to break through the clouds and the Spanish language will finally begin to make sense.

So here's the dilemma: Spanish speakers don't say "I hugged him." Instead, they say "I him hugged." And they don't say "I brought her." They say "I her brought." And instead of "I did it", they say "I it did."

If that freaks you out, you're not alone. But with some practice this is going to be second nature within a few weeks, and we're going to make good headway on it in today’s episode.

There are two big questions that we have to answer here. First of all, why is the word "him", "her", or "it" in such a weird place in these sentences, in the middle instead of at the end? And second, how do you know when you have to restructure a phrase like that?

Let's answer the second question first. The basic rule is: If a pronoun is interchangeable with "him", it's probably a direct object pronoun.

Let's try that out right now. See if you can find the direct object pronoun in each of these sentences. In each case, see if there's a pronoun that's interchangeable with "him". Usually these words will be "it", "him", or "her". If you can identify the word that's interchangeable with "him", you've successfully found the direct object pronoun.

First example:

  • We found it!

You can say “we found him”, so the direct object pronoun here is “it”. “We found it!”

Next example:

  • He hugged her tightly and cried softly.

The only word here that you could replace with the word “him”is the word “her”. You could say “he hugged him tightly and cried softly.” So the direct object pronoun here is “her”. “He hugged her tightly and cried softly.”


  • They did it very quickly.

The only word here that you could replace with “him”is the word “it”. It would be weird, but you COULD say “They did him very quickly.” So the direct object pronoun here is “it”. “They did it very quickly.”

One more:

  • He loves it and calls it his own.

You can say “He loves him and calls him his own.” So there are two direct object pronouns here, both instances of the word “it”. “He loves it and calls it his own.”

This is tricky stuff, but stick with it. If you can master this stuff, you’ll be ahead of 90% of people who want to learn Spanish but aren't motivated enough to get through the hardest spots like this one.

All right, so the next question is: How do you restructure these sentences to look like Spanish sentences? It's actually a very simple rule: Whenever a direct object pronoun occurs in Spanish, it always occurs right before the verb.

So let's look at just a couple of sentences that use “him” and talk through this. First:

  • We found him!

First let’s do the eat test. Which word is the verb in this sentence? You could say “we ate him”, so the verb here is “found”. So our next step is to put the direct object pronoun right before the verb. Since the word is "him", you'll use lo.

  • We lo found!

Let’s do this again with this example:

  • She hugged him tightly at the airport.

Let’s do the eat test. Which word is the verb in this sentence? You could say “she ate him”, so the verb here is “hugged”. Our next step is to put the direct object pronoun right before the verb. And since the word is "him", you'll use lo.

  • She lo hugged tightly at the airport.

This might be the number one thing that makes Spanish seem freakishly different from English. Direct object pronouns, which are typically little two-letter words, occur right before a verb rather than right after.

So we’ve now learned lo to mean “him”.

The word for “her” is la.

Now hold on a second. We already learned the word la to mean "the", as in "the girl", or "la girl". THIS la is a DIFFERENT word. It's spelled the same, and it's pronounced the same, but it means something entirely different. So there's the word la that means "the", as in "the girl", or la girl, and there's the word la that means "her" as a direct object.

Now, you would think that this would confuse Spanish speakers. If you see or hear the word la in a sentence, how are you going to know if it means "the" or "her"? But actually, once you've practiced the language a bit, you'll never get these two words confused. And that's because of the food test and the eat test from the previous lesson. If la occurs right before a noun, it must mean "the". If it's a direct object, on the other hand, meaning "her", it absolutely has to occur right before a verb. There are some strange exceptions, but for now we’re going to learn this as a very strict rule for direct objects like him and her: They always occur right before a verb.

So to give you some active practice right away, I'm going to present some English sentences that have la thrown into them. In each case, it means either "the" or "her". If it happens before a noun, meaning that the word right after la passes the food test, then the la in that context means "the". If it happens before a verb, meaning that the word right after la passes the eat test, then la means "her".

  • La house is on the corner there.
  • Our friends la see.
  • You la hear.

OK, now let’s practice using both lo and la as direct objects. I’ll present some English sentences, and you should first find the direct object pronoun and then move it to right before the verb. And then if it's "him", it will be lo. If it's "her", it will be la.

  • You see her. You la see.
  • I called him yesterday. I lo called yesterday.
  • My dog smelled him excitedly. My dog lo smelled excitedly.
  • It scared her. It la scared.

Now what about this sentence:

  • We found it!

As you can see, the word "it" here is interchangeable with "him". We could just as easily say "We found him", so we're dealing with a direct object pronoun here. But what word do we use?

It turns out that there's actually no single, unique word for "it". When "it" is a direct object pronoun, as it so often is, you'll typically use lo, which is the word we learned for "him". Let's practice that use right now in the following sentences. If the direct object is "him" or "it", use lo. If it's "her", use la.

  • We found it! We lo found!
  • She saw her at the store. She la saw at the store.
  • We bought it yesterday. We lo bought yesterday.
  • We ate it already. We lo ate already.
  • He did it? He lo did?
  • He loves it and calls it his own. He lo loves and lo calls his own.

Now for a tricky thing, to once again prove how important grammar is! Here's a sentence with "it" in it. But it isn't an example of lo.

  • It surprised her.

So consider this sentence carefully. Try the "him test". Is the word "it" interchangeable with "him"? "Him surprised her"? No, that doesn't work. So "it" here is NOT a direct object pronoun. You only turn "it" into lo when it's interchangeable with the word "him".

And to make it just a little more complicated, sometimes "it" as a direct object isn't lo; sometimes it's la! How is that possible? Well, we assign people either "him" or "her" based on whether we're talking about a guy or a gal. But we call something "it" if it doesn't have a gender.

However, in Spanish, EVERY noun has a gender, whether it's a guy, a gal, or a thing. All things in Spanish are either referred to as "him" or "her", depending on a strange phenomenon called grammatical gender, something we have in Spanish, but not in English.

We won't go deep into grammatical gender yet — and don't worry, it's actually not as difficult to understand as the other things we've been working on. The only thing I want to point out here is that there are two ways to interpret this sentence:

  • We have it.

Sometimes this will be "We lo have", and sometimes it will be "We la have", depending on whether the thing we're talking about is masculine or feminine.

As we continue practicing the words lo and la in the next few episodes, you won't have to know the gender of nouns except for people. Just remember that lo means both "him" and "it" as a direct object for masculine things, and la means both "her" and "it" as a direct object for feminine things.

Let’s get some good practice with lo and la, along with everything else we’ve learned on the podcast so far. We’ll start with some simpler examples, and then they’ll get a little longer and more complex. Try to guess as much Spanish as you can for each of these. (However, note that when you hear the word “the”, you only have to translate it if you are pretty sure what gender the noun is, specifically if it’s before a gendered person; if you hear the word “the” before an inanimate object or place, you can just leave it as “the” for now in your answer.)

First example:

She and I did it.

She y I lo did.

Ella y yo lo hicimos.

That caused it!

Eso lo caused!

¡Eso lo provocó!

The girl doesn't love him.

La girl no lo loves.

La chica no lo ama.

Now wait a second. In that example, we had both no and lo, both of which we said have to go before the verb in the sentence. Whenever this happens, the rule is that the direct object pronoun is the most important thing to put right up against the verb. So we can’t say la girl lo no loves. Lo has to be right before “loves”. So no is gonna go right before that. We’ll get more and more practice with this in future episodes, so watch for a lot of these examples on Friday when we focus on quizzing and practicing complex sentences.

That went to its home.

Eso went a its home.

Eso fue a su casa.

I don't take her to school.

I no la take a school.

Yo no la llevo a la escuela.

That didn't hurt her.

Eso no la hurt.

Eso no la lastimó.

The man found her with a rag doll.

El man la found with a doll de rag.

El hombre la encontró con una muñeca de trapo.

The boy is not the same one.

El boy no is el same one.

El niño no es el mismo.

I think the girl saw him.

I think que la girl lo saw.

Creo que la chica lo vio.

My dog saw her coming from the store.

My dog la saw coming de the store.

Mi perro la vio venir de la tienda.

I think that that is from Canada.

I think que eso is de Canada.

Creo que eso es de Canadá.

The girl from your country did that.

La girl de your country did eso.

La chica de tu país hizo eso.

The man and the woman see her.

El man y la woman la see.

El hombre y la mujer la ven.

The man and I went to the office.

El man y I went a the office.

El hombre y yo fuimos a la oficina.

The mother didn't find him.

La mother no lo found.

La madre no lo encontró.

Sara’s music drifted to his ears.

The music de Sara drifted a his ears.

La música de Sara llegó a sus oídos.

She and I chased a bird and it flew away from us.

She y I chased a bird y it flew away de us.

Ella y yo perseguimos a un pájaro y voló lejos de nosotras.

They said he told them he had gone to the party.

They said que he told them que he had gone a the party.

Dijeron que les dijo que había ido a la fiesta.

If you had trouble with this quiz, I recommend getting a lot more practice before moving on. This is some core stuff to master right now, and everything we do going forward will build on this foundation. You can get some free quizzing material to practice everything we learned in this episode at LCSPodcast.com/7.

Tomorrow we’ll keep working on direct object pronouns, including some of the words for “me” and “you”.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was provided 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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