"It" is one of the most common English words, but its direct equivalent in Spanish, ello, isn't used much. That's because Spanish has other ways of expressing the same concept — or not stating it at all.
This lesson looks at translations for "it" in four cases, depending on how it is used in relation to the other words in a sentence: as the subject of a sentence, as the direct object of a verb, as an indirect object of a verb and as the object of a preposition.
As the subject of a sentence: Because it has an extensive verb conjugation, Spanish is able to frequently omit the subjects of sentences entirely, depending on the context to make clear what the subject is. Take a simple sentence such as "Está aquí." Out of context, that sentence can mean "he is here," "she is here" or "it is here." When the subject of a sentence is inanimate, something that would be referred to as "it," it is very unusual in Spanish to use a subject at all:
- ¿Dónde está el teléfono? Está aquí. Where is the telephone? It is here.
- Está roto. It is broken.
- Hoy compré una computadora portátil. Es muy cara. Today I bought a laptop computer. It is very expensive.
- No me gusta esta canción: es muy rencorosa. I don't like this song. It's full of resentment.
In English, it is common to use "it" as the subject of a sentence in a vague sense, such as when talking about the weather: "It is raining." "It" can also be used when talking about a situation: "It is dangerous." In such cases of a vague "it," again, Spanish omits the sentence subject:
- Llueve. It is raining.
- Nieva. It is snowing.
- Es peligroso. It is dangerous.
- Es muy común encontrar vendedores en la playa. It is very common to find vendors on the beach.
- Puede pasar. It can happen.
As the direct object of a verb: As the direct object of a verb, "it" is expressed by either lo when it refers to a masculine noun or la when it refers to a feminine noun.
- ¿Viste el coche? No lo vi. Did you see the car? I didn't see it.
- ¿Viste la camisa? No la vi. Did you see the shirt? I didn't see it.
- No me gusta esta hamburguesa, pero voy a comerla. I don't like this hamburger, but I'm going to eat it.
- Antonio me compró un anillo. ¡Míralo! Antonio bought me a ring. Look at it!
- ¿Tienes la llave? No la tengo. Do you have the key? I don't have it.
If you don't know what "it" refers to, use the masculine form: Vi algo. ¿Lo viste? I saw something. Did you see it?
As an indirect object of a verb: It is quite unusual in Spanish for an indirect object to be an inanimate object, but when it is use le: Déle un golpe con la mano. Give it a hit with your hand.
As the object of a preposition: Here again, gender makes a difference. If you are referring to a noun that's masculine, use él; if you are referring to a noun that's feminine, use ella. As objects of pronouns, these words can also mean "him" and "her," in addition to "it," so you need to let the context determine what is meant.
- El coche está roto. Necesito un eje para él. The car is broken. I need an axle for it.
- Me gusta mucho mi bicicleta. No puedo vivir sin ella. I like my bicycle a lot. I can't live without it.
- El examen fue muy difícil. A causa de él, no aprobé. The test was very difficult. Because of it, I didn't pass.
- Había muchas muertes antes de la guerra civil y durante ella. There were many deaths before the civil war and during it.
When the object of a preposition refers to a general condition or something without a name, you can use the neuter pronoun for "it," ello. It is also very common to use the neuter pronoun eso, which literally means "this."
- Mi novia me odia. No quiero hablar de ello. My girlfriend hates me. I don't want to talk about it. (In the sample sentence, you also could say "hablar de eso.")
- No te preocupes por ello. No te preocupes por eso. Don't worry about it.