Saying ‘It’ in Spanish

Masculine and feminine pronouns are sometimes used

woman with broken car
El coche está roto. Necesito un repuesto para él. (The car is broken. I need a part for it. In this example, "él" means "it" rather than "him.").

Andreas Schlegel / Getty Images

"It" is one of the most common English words, but its direct equivalent in Spanish, ello, isn't used much. That's mostly because Spanish has other ways of saying "it"—or not stating it at all.

This lesson looks at translations for "it" in four situations, 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.

Saying ‘It’ in Spanish 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. 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. Note how in this and the following sentences that there is no Spanish word given to translate "it.")
  • 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.)

It is possible to use ello as the subject when referring a concept or abstraction rather a specific noun, but such use sometimes comes across as old-fashioned. It is much more common to use the neuter pronoun eso, which literally means "that," or esto, "this." In all these examples, it would more common either to delete ello or use eso or esto:

  • Ello no es posible ni concebido. (It is neither possible nor conceivable.)
  • Ello puede explicarse con facilidad. (It can be explained easily.)
  • Ello era la razón por el desastre. (That was the reason for the disaster.)

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." Such as use of "it" in English is sometimes referred to as a dummy subject. In translation to Spanish, dummy subjects are nearly always omitted.

  • 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.)

Saying ‘It’ in Spanish as the Direct Object of a Verb

As the direct object of a verb, the translation of "it" varies with gender. Use lo when the pronoun 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. Lo is used because coche is masculine.)
  • ¿Viste la camisa? No la vi. (Did you see the shirt? I didn't see it. La is used because camisa is feminine.)
  • 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, or if "it" refers to something abstract, use the masculine form, which technically is a neuter form in this usage:

  • Vi algo. ¿Lo viste? (I saw something. Did you see it?)
  • No lo sé. (I don't know it.)

Saying ‘It’ in Spanish as an Indirect Object

It is unusual in Spanish for an indirect object to be an inanimate object, but when it is use le:

  • le un golpe con la mano. (Give it a hit with your hand.)
  • Bríndale la oportunidad. (Give it a chance.)

Saying ‘It’ in Spanish as the Object of Preposition

Here again, gender makes a difference. If the prepositional object refers 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 repuesto para él. (The car is broken. I need a part 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 "that" or esto, "this."

  • Mi novia me odia. No quiero hablar de ello. (My girlfriend hates me. I don't want to talk about it. More common would be: No quiera hablar de eso/esto.)
  • No te preocupes por ello. (Don't worry about it. More common would be: No te preocupes for eso/esto.)
  • Pensaré en ello. (I will think about it. More common would be: Pensaré en eso/esto.)

Key Takeaways

  • Although Spanish has a word for "it," ello, that word is uncommon and can only be used as a subject pronoun or the object of a preposition under some circumstances.
  • When "it" is the subject of an English sentence, the word typically is omitted in translation to Spanish.
  • As the object of a preposition, "it" is typically translated to Spanish using él or ella, which as objects are usually the words for "him" and "her," respectively.
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Erichsen, Gerald. "Saying ‘It’ in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). Saying ‘It’ in Spanish. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Saying ‘It’ in Spanish." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).