Translating 'That'

Spanish Equivalent Depends on Meaning, Part of Speech

Juices for Spanish grammar lesson on translating
Es el jugo sin el cual no podrías vivir. (It's the juice that you couldn't live without.). EVidaSana.com/Creative Commons.

"That" is one of those words in English that has no straightforward answer to the question: "How do you translate that to Spanish?"

More so than most words, translating "that" to Spanish requires you to understand how it is used in a sentence and what it means. A quite common word, it can function as a pronoun, conjunction, adjective or adverb — or be part of phrases where its meaning is less than clear.

'That' as an Adjective

When "that" is used an adjective, it most often is used to point to a particular thing or person. In such cases, it functions as a demonstrative adjective. The most common demonstrative adjectives used for "that" are ese (masculine), esa (feminine), aquel (masculine) and aquella (feminine). Generally, objects referred to with ese or esa are not as far away in space or time as ones accompanied by aquel or aquella.

  • I'm going to buy myself that car. Me voy a comprar ese coche.
  • That car (over there) is better than yours. Aquel coche es mejor que el tuyo.
  • I want that computer! ¡Quiero esa computadora!

Less frequently, "that" can be used to refer to someone or something that was mentioned earlier. Using dicho or dicha is a possible translation:

  • At the end of the video one can observe that that woman (the one mentioned earlier) is betrayed before her very eyes. Al final del video se puede observar que dicha mujer es traiconada ante sus propios ojos.
  • I would like to acquire that car (that we've been talking about). Me gustaría adquirir dicho coche.

'That' as a Subject or Object Pronoun

Usually, when "that" is used as subject or object pronoun, it is used much the same way as the demonstrative adjectives discussed above, except that it stands by itself without the noun, becoming a demonstrative pronoun.

The forms are the same as the adjectives listed above, except that an orthographic accent is generally used: ése, ésa, aquél and aquélla. The gender changes depending on whether the noun being referred to is masculine or feminine:

  • I'm going to buy myself that. Me voy a comprar ése.
  • That (over there) is better than yours. Aquél es mejor que el tuyo.
  • I want that! ¡Quiero ésa!

Note: Under rules adopted by the Royal Spanish Academy, accents are no longer required on demonstrative pronouns, although they frequently are still used.

If "that" refers to a sentence, a thought or something that is unknown (and therefore its gender not known), eso (no accent) is used:

  • That is a good idea. Eso es una buena idea.
  • What is that? ¿Qué es eso?
  • All that can't be free. Todo eso no puede ser gratis.

In many cases, "that" as a subject pronoun doesn't have to be translated at all, especially where "it" could be used as well. For example, "that's impossible" could usually be translated as either "eso es imposible" or merely "es imposible."

'That' as a Relative Pronoun

When "that" is used as a relative pronoun, it introduces a phrase or clause that provides more information about a noun, which it follows. This concept is probably easier to understand with examples, where "that" is generally translated by the Spanish que:

  • This is the house that you're looking for. Ésta es la casa que buscas.
  • She is the student that knows nothing. Es la estudiante que sabe nada.
  • El Bulli is a restaurant that is found in Girona. El Bulli es un restaurante que se encuentra en Girona.

If "that" can be replaced by "who" or "which" with little change in meaning, it is probably functioning as a relative pronoun.

If the relative pronoun "that" is used in an English sentence that ends in a preposition, you may need to use the relative pronoun el cual or its variations (la cual, los cuales or las cuales, depending on number and gender) following a Spanish preposition:

  • It's the juice that you couldn't live without. Es el jugo sin el cual no podrías vivir.
  • She is a woman that many don't pay attention to. Es una mujer a la cual muchos no le ponen atención.

    "That" as a Conjunction

    Although "that" may not seem like a conjunction, it often functions as one (a subordinating conjunction, to be precise) when it follows a verb. Typically, que can be used in translation:

    • The boss said that he is happy with my work. El jefe me dijo que está contento con mi trabajo.
    • I understand that I can't be forced to sign this document. Comprendo que no se me puede forzar a firmar este documento.
    • He knows that we know that such an aspiration is stupidity. Él sabe que nosotros sabemos que tal pretensión es una estupidez.

    "That" as an Adverb

    Usually, "that" as an adverb is the rough equivalent of "so" and can be translated as tan.

    • He isn't that smart. No es tan inteligente.
    • Yes, it's that important to wash your hands. Sí, es tan importante lavarse los manos.

    "That" in Phrases and Idioms

    In phrases and idioms, the translation of "that" is often unpredictable. There are probably too many such phrases to be memorized; it is probably better to try to think of what the phrase means and translate accordingly.

    For example, take a phrase such as "That's it!" It would make no sense to try translating that word for word (although sometimes "¡Eso es!" will do just fine). Instead, think of what the phrase means, which will vary with the context. If you intend for the phrase to mean something like "Eureka!" that works in Spanish too: "¡Eureka!" If you intend to say something like "I'm fed up!" you might try "¡Estoy harto!" If you mean that something has come to an end, perhaps "¡Es el fin!" will get your meaning across.

    Here are some examples of how you might translate phrases using "that":

    • And that's that!: ¡Y eso es todo!
    • At that: He is a writer, and a good one at that. Es escritor, y además de los buenos.
    • Despite that: They charged for Ubuntu despite that it is free. Cobraron Ubuntu a pesar de que es gratis.
    • How to you like that?: ¿Qué te parece?
    • In order that, so that: We need your help in order that the campaign be successful. Necesitamos su ayuda a fin de que la campaña tenga éxito. Evil exists so that people can appreciate what is good. El mal existe para que las personas puedan apreciar lo que es bueno.
    • Like that: Why do politicians talk like that? ¿Por qué hablan así los políticos?
    • That I know of: Nobody has cloned me that I know of. Que yo sepa nadie me ha clonado.
    • That is to say: Excel 2007 didn't know how to multiply. That is to say, it made mistakes. Excel 2007 no sabía multiplicar. Es decir, se equivocaba.