Neuter gender is necessary in Spanish in order to refer to concepts, ideas, or statements such as a preceding remark or sentence. These concepts, ideas and statements are neither grammatically masculine nor grammatically feminine. Masculine and feminine articles and pronouns can refer only to nouns, either present or implied, and nouns can be only masculine or feminine. To refer to concepts, ideas or statements Spanish uses a neuter article and some neuter pronouns.
Spanish has one neuter article, lo, which is singular. There is no plural neuter article. It has a variety of uses.
Lo with masculine singular adjectives and participles and with adverbs
The neuter article is often used with masculine singular adjectives and participles or in the construction lo de + (noun or adverb) as a sort of abstract noun. This often is equivalent to "adjective + 'thing' " in English, but sometimes translating it to English requires a bit more imagination. For example: Lo bueno de tu casa es que tiene mucha luz = "What's good about your house is that it's full of light", Baja lo de arriba = "Take down everything from up there".
Expressions of the form lo más/menos + (adverb) + (phrase meaning "as possible") are common. For example: Hazlo lo más rápidamente que puedas = "Do it as quickly as you can".
Bastante and suficiente may translate as "enough" in phrases of the form lo bastante/suficiente (adjective) para/como para: era lo suficientemente ingenua (como) para tragarse cualquier cuento = "she was naive/gullible enough to swallow/believe any story".
Lo with adjectives or adverbs meaning "how"
Lo + adjective or adverb often is equivalent to "how" or another similar word + adjective or adverb. The adjective agrees with its noun. This construction is especially common after verbs of perception and verbs of liking/disliking. ¿No se ha fijado en lo delgada que se ha quedado? = "Haven't you noticed how slender she's become?" (adjective), or si vieras lo mal que patina = "If you could see how badly he/she skates" (adverb).
Ello is a neuter third-person pronoun. It can translate "it" when it does not refer to a specific noun: compare en cuanto al régimen militar, prefiero no hablar de él = "as for the military regime, I prefer not to talk about it" (él = régimen, masculine) and todo fue tremendamente violento, y prefiero no hablar de ello = "it was all tremendously embarrassing, and I prefer not to talk about it" (ello = todo fue tremendamente violento , concept/phrase is neuter).
Ello may be the subject of a verb or the object of a preposition. Its direct object form is lo and its indirect object form is le.
As the subject of a verb and as the object of a preposition ello often is equivalent to "this" or "that" and refers to all of a preceding utterance. Often one can use one of the neuter demonstrative pronouns instead of ello.
If you omit ello (or an equivalent demonstrative pronoun) from a sentence, the following verb will take some nearby gendered noun or pronoun as its subject, and the meaning may change. For example: el director dijo que no vamos excedidos con el presupuesto, pero ello no permite que podamos ser extravagantes = "The director said that we're not over-budget, but this fact does not allow us to be extravagant", but pero no permite que seamos extravagantes would mean "but he doesn't allow us to be extravagant".
Lo as a neuter pronoun
Lo is the direct object pronoun that corresponds to ello, although it can also mean "him" or "it" in reference to masculine nouns. Lo as a neuter pronoun does not refer to any specific noun; rather, it refers to an idea, action, situation, clause or sentence that has no gender.
Lo is used to echo or resume the predicate of estar, ser and parecer, the object of transitive verbs and of haber = "there is/are". Spanish generally prefers to maintain an explicit predicate or object with these verbs where English often omits it: for example, puedo aguantar el estar cansado, pero preferiría no estarlo = "I can stand being tired, but I'd rather not be". However, resumptive lo is not used when a gerund is dropped after estar: ¿estás escribiendo un ensayo? Sí, estoy/Sí, lo estoy haciendo = "Are you writing an essay? Yes, I am."
Le is the indirect object form of lo: ¿qué le vamos a hacer? = "ah well, what can be done about it?"
The feminine plural las is used idiomatically with a few se verbs where one would expect the neuter pronoun lo. Some of these verbs have unexpected meanings when used this way. A couple of examples include:
- arreglárselas = to find a way to do something
- dárselas de = to fancy oneself as
Neuter demonstrative pronouns
The neuter demonstrative pronouns are esto, eso and aquello. They never function as demonstrative adjectives, and they never take a written accent.