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'Lo Que' Used To Form Noun Phrases

Lesson 6 in the 'Real Spanish Grammar' Series

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Excerpt from news article: Antognini y otros colegas europeos y de EE UU presentan esta semana en Science un estudio que señala que el protón es más pequeño de lo que se cree. Los resultados confirman lo que el mismo equipo ya publicó en Nature en 2010: "El protón parece ser 0,00000000000003 milímetros menor de lo que pensaban los investigadores."

Source: ABC.es. Retrieved Jan. 25, 2013.

Suggested translation: Antognini and other European and American colleagues are presenting a study in Science this week that indicates that the proton is smaller than what is believed. The results confirm what the same research team already published in Nature in 2010: "The proton seems to be 0.00000000000003 millimeters smaller than what researchers thought."

Key grammatical issue: Lo que, used in this selection three times, is a common way of starting a phrase that functions as a noun. It is probably best to think of lo que here as a single word, a type of neuter relative pronoun. When lo que refers to an idea or abstract action, it can almost always be translated as "what" or "that which." Some examples of everyday phrases using lo que in this way:

  • Lo que pasa, what is happening.
  • Lo que hemos hecho, what we have done.
  • Lo que me preocupa, what is worrying me.
  • Lo que sabemos, what we know.
  • Lo que es inolvidable, what is unforgettable.

"The thing that" can be used in translation when referring to something more specific: lo que tiene seis ojos, the thing that has six eyes.

Other notes on vocabulary and grammar:

  • EE UU is a plural abbreviation for Estados Unidos.
  • Más pequeño and menor are examples of comparisons of inequality.
  • Se cree is a conjugated reflexive form of creer, a verb meaning to believe or to think. The reflexive here is used something like the passive voice in that it indicates something is believed without explicitly stating who's doing the believing.
  • Equipo in Spanish refers to a group of people working together for a common purpose. Usually translated as "team," it is applied to non-sports activities more often than the English word is. "Research team" was used in translation for clarity.
  • Ya is an adverb usually used to add emphasis. "Already" was used in the translation as a way of emphasizing that preliminary findings had been published earlier.
  • See lessons on parecer, ser and pensar for more about usage of those verbs.
  • Note the use of the comma in the number where English would use a period. The original sentence came from a publication in Spain; had it come from Mexico, the number would have been rendered with a period.
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