Using lo que = what, which, that which, the thing that (relative pronouns)

In Spanish lo que is used to express what, which, that which, or the thing that, in reference to some idea expressed in the same sentence.

See and hear how it is used in these examples. The idea lo que refers to is underlined:

Lo que quiero decir es que no me das miedo.
What I mean is that you don't frighten me.

Le apasionan los documentales históricoslo que me parece aburridísimo.
She loves history documentaries, which I find very boring.

Lo que admiro de ellos es su tenacidad.
What I admire about them is their tenacity.

Han recaudado mucho dinerolo que me pone muy contenta.
They have collected a lot of money, which makes me very happy.

Sometimes, lo que forms part of the expression of the idea:

A él le gusta lo que ella odia.
He likes what she hates.

Puedes hacer lo que quieras, no me importa.
You can do what you want, I don’t care.

No me digas lo que tengo que decidir.
Don't tell me what I have to decide.

¿Qué es lo que quieres?
What is it that you want?

Lo que versus La cosa que

  • In sentences that start with lo que we can usually (not always) use the expression la cosa que as well.
  • When lo que is in the middle of the sentence, this normally isn't possible.
This works very similarly to its English equivalent. Here, La cosa que could replace lo que:

Lo que admiro de ellos es su tenacidad.
What I admire about them is their tenacity.
The thing that I admire about them is their tenacity.

Here, La cosa que can't replace lo que:

Han recaudado mucho dinero, lo que me pone muy contenta.
They have collected a lot of money, which makes me very happy.
They have collected a lot of money, the thing that makes me very happy.

Lo que versus que

Whilst they are similar, don't confuse que and lo que. In this example, lo que refers to the whole sentence/idea that the school is closed:

El colegio está cerrado, lo que quiere decir que están de vacaciones.
The school is closedwhich means they are on holidays.

Whereas in this example with que, it refers to the noun, the school.

El colegio, que está cerrado, abrirá la semana que viene.
The school, which is closed, will open next week.

See Que/ el cual/ la cual/ los cuales/ quien/ quienes = who, that, which (relative pronouns) to learn more.

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

A él le gusta lo que ella odia.
He likes what she hates.


Lo que quiero decir es que no me das miedo.
What I mean is that you don't frighten me.


Le apasionan los documentales históricoslo que me parece aburridísimo.
She loves history documentaries, which I find very boring.


No tengo ni idea de lo que querrá ese chico.
I have no idea of what this guy might want.


¿Qué es lo que quieres?
What is it that you want?


Lo que admiro de ellos es su tenacidad.
What I admire about them is their tenacity.


No vas a creer lo que me pasó el otro día.
You are not going to believe what happened to me the other day.


No me digas lo que tengo que decidir.
Don't tell me what I have to decide.


El colegio está cerrado, lo que quiere decir que están de vacaciones.
The school is closedwhich means they are on holidays.


Puedes hacer lo que quieras, no me importa.
You can do what you want, I don’t care.


Han recaudado mucho dinerolo que me pone muy contenta.
They have collected a lot of money, which makes me very happy.


Q&A Forum 4 questions, 9 answers

LilouC1Kwiziq community member

difference between cuál and lo que

Hello, in cases where cuál means what, is there a difference between cuál and lo que ?

Thanks !

Asked 4 months ago
GarryA1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

"lo que" more correctly means "that which" while "lo cual" implies "which". In american English the difference between them all is difficult to translate.

InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Lilou

"lo cual" can mean the same as "lo que", for example:

Mi hermano sacó mejores notas que yo, lo que me fastidió mucho.

My brother got better results than me, which I found very annoying.

Mi hermano sacó mejores notas que yo, lo cual me fastidió mucho.

My brother got better results than me, which I found very annoying.

Using lo cual is a bit more formal than lo que.

Saludos

Inma

difference between cuál and lo que

Hello, in cases where cuál means what, is there a difference between cuál and lo que ?

Thanks !

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LilouC1Kwiziq community member

why

Hello, in "Puedes hacer lo que quieras, no me importa.", why is it quieras and not quieres ? I got that it's the subjunctive but I don't understand why. Thanks !

Asked 5 months ago
LilouC1Kwiziq community member

Is it because it's a wish ? Thanks.

InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Hans

We are using the subjunctive here because the speaker means "you can do whatever it is that you want to do. Either the speaker is having a dismissive attitude or he/she doesn't really know what the other person has in mind (to do). 

However, if had there been a previous conversation between the speakers about a specific thing that one of them wants to do, then the speaker would have probably used the indicative:

"Puedes hacer lo que quieres." 

Here he is talking about that specific thing that is known to him/her. 

I hope this helps,

Saludos

Inma

why

Hello, in "Puedes hacer lo que quieras, no me importa.", why is it quieras and not quieres ? I got that it's the subjunctive but I don't understand why. Thanks !

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HansC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Is it possible to have "la que"?

I come to it after the test question:

Sinceramente, ________ odio de ti es tu frialdad. Honestly, what I hate about you is your coldness.I thougth the answer to be la que, because it is la frialdad. But probably i am wrong.
Asked 1 year ago
InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Hans,

In this case you need "lo que" because it is referring to "The thing that", as a neutral thing/idea. So, we could say:

"The thing I hate about you is your coldness." or "What I hate about you is your coldness." 

There is a very similar example in the lesson:

Lo que admiro de ellos es su tenacidad.
What I admire about them is their tenacity.
The thing that I admire about them is their tenacity.

I hope this helps.

Inma

Is it possible to have "la que"?

I come to it after the test question:

Sinceramente, ________ odio de ti es tu frialdad. Honestly, what I hate about you is your coldness.I thougth the answer to be la que, because it is la frialdad. But probably i am wrong.

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PeggyB2Kwiziq community member

The rel. pronoun for "She loves history documentaries..." should be los que. They, plural noun, are what I find boring.

Asked 1 year ago
SilviaKwiziq team member

¡Hola Peggy!

As the lesson explains, "lo que" is used to refer to an idea previously mentioned, in this case, the idea of finding documentaries boring. If you decide to use "los que", which is absolutely and grammatically possible, the meaning of the sentence changes and it would refer only to "documentaries" and not to the idea of finding documentaries boring.

I hope this helps.

Silvia.

PeggyB2Kwiziq community member
She loves historical documentaries. The fact that she loves them bores you?, or the documentaries themselves?  The phrase “which I find boring” is the phrase that starts with the relative pronoun which, it does not relate to itself! I find your answer nonsensical.
SilviaKwiziq team member

I am sorry that you could not understand my previous answer...Here are both sentences again with their meanings:

1. Le encantan los documentales de historia, LO QUE (yo) encuentro aburrido = I find [the fact] that she loves history documentaries boring.

2. Le encantan los documentales de historia, LOS QUE (yo) encuentro aburridoS (agreement of the adjective is necessary here) = I find history documentaries boring.

I hope that it is clearer now.

Gracias.

Silvia.

JuliaC1Kwiziq community member

It’s a confusing example. Kind of a weird sentence. The idea that someone loves historic documentaries wouldn’t be boring but maybe surprising or strange. The documentaries themselves are what the speaker most likely finds boring. The idea that her friend loves them would strike her as odd or unusual I would think. 

The rel. pronoun for "She loves history documentaries..." should be los que. They, plural noun, are what I find boring.

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