Using ‘Lo Que’ and ‘Lo Cual’ To Form Noun Phrases

Both terms are neuter, referring to a concept or sentence

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Lo que and lo cual are common ways of forming a phrase that acts as a noun. Because lo que and lo cual are neuter, they are used to refer to an entire sentence, a thought, or an abstract concept rather than something specific. It is best to think of lo que and lo cual as single words with a space in the middle rather than trying to parse the individual particles.

Lo que and lo cual can be translated as "that" or "which," and it is also common for lo que to be translated as "what" or, more formally, "that which." They function as relative pronouns, meaning they introduce a clause (a noun and an accompanying verb that don't form a complete sentence when standing alone) that provide more information about what lo que or lo cual refer to.

An Annotated Example of Using Lo Que

Here's an example of lo que being used three times in a paragraph. The paragraph is from ABC.es, a major news site in Spain.

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."

Here is one what in this except could be translated to English:

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."

Examining these examples can show you how lo que is used; lo cual is used much the same way and is often interchangeable.

In the first sentence, lo que introduces the clause se cree. Se cree is a conjugated reflexive form of creer, a verb meaning to believe or to think. The reflexive here is used like the passive voice in that it indicates something is believed without explicitly stating who is doing the believing, so it can be thought of as meaning "is believed" making lo que se cree meaning "what is believed." "What is believed" is a concept that doesn't have gender.

In the second sentence, lo que introduces el mismo equipo ya publicó (the same team already published). So the complete phrase (lo que el mismo equipo ya publicó) means "what the same team already published," again a concept without gender, which gives the reader more information about the research results.

In the third sentence, the full phrase (lo que pensaban los investigadores) acts as a noun phrase functioning as a prepositional object of de. Again, what the researchers thought is a concept without gender.

Sample Sentences Using Lo Cual

El hotel está situado en lo alto de una colina, lo cual permite tener una panorámica de 360 grados de la región. (The hotel is situated on the top of a hill, which allows it to have a 360-degree panoramic view of the region. Lo cual gives us more information about a concept, that of the hotel being on a hill.)

Oyeron unos 40 disparos, por lo cual salieron. (They heard some 40 gunshots, which is why they left.)

Las tasas de natalidad y de mortalidad son muy altas, por lo cual el crecimiento natural de la población es muy lento. (The birth and death rates are very high, which is why the population's natural growth rate is very slow.)

Las condiciones de temperatura deben ser controladas, lo cual es difícil en una cocina. (The temperature conditions should be controlled, which is difficult to do in a kitchen.)

Key Takeaways

  • Lo cual and lo que can function as relative pronouns that refer to an entire sentence or a concept.
  • Lo cual and lo que don't refer to specific things but rather to concepts or entire sentences.
  • "That," "which," and "what" are common English translations for lo que and lo cual.