3 Vote

Hi there,

I was wondering if someone could give me a quick explanation of the difference between lo que/que/qué ?

Por ejemplo:

Did he tell you what he told me yesterday?

1) él te dijo lo que él me dijo ayer?

2) él te dijo qué él me dijo ayer?

As I am in the early stages learning spanish by myself, I have begun to translate 'lo que' as "that which". Is this assumption correct? And is there anything grammatically incorrect in the second translation? I am finding myself stumbling over the many uses of the word/pronoun 'lo"!!!


  • Posted Oct 18, 2009
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8 Answers

9 Vote

"You do hear 'what' used incorrectly in English sometimes -

'Did I show you the iPod what I found?' "

Nobody who speaks English as a first language, or fluently, would ever say this.

As for the question...I would translate "lo que" as "what" (as in an object or idea) "Te dijo lo que estaba pensando" He told you what he was thinking, the "What" being "whatever it was". If you said "te dijo que estaba pensando" it would mean "he told you that he was thinking" So therefore I would translate "que" (when used in the middle of a sentence, like so) as "that".


"Yo sé que tu quieres ir al banco" - I know that you want to go to the bank

"Yo sé lo que quieres hacer" - I know what you want to do.

"Me dices que estás pensando" - You tell me that you are thinking.

"Me dices lo que estás pensando" - You tell me what you are thinking.

I hope this helps you see the difference!

PS "qué" with an accent on the "e" is only used when it is a question word. (¿Qué haces?, ¿Qué estás pensando?, etc). Good luck with your Spanish!! smile

  • Nobody who has learnt English as a second language would ever say that, but poorly educated native speakers DO sometimes use 'what' in that incorrect way - I didn't make it up! - Jespa Oct 19, 2009 flag
  • What is the difference between "¿Lo que va a hacer esta noche?" and "¿Qué va a hacer esta noche?"? - shuhung6 Feb 13, 2011 flag
  • Thanks dbro, I have an excellent understanding of lo que after reading your post. Like the initial poster, I too always interpreted it as "that which", but so far lo que as "what" seems to work in every situation - halofan00 Apr 19, 2011 flag
  • In the above examples 'that which' would be an appropriate understanding of 'lo que', and is equivalent to, and probably more accurate than using 'what' in English. - dearcarey Jun 28, 2014 flag
  • What about the phrase "no sé qué hacer"? Why wouldn't it be "no sé lo que hacer"? - npip99 Feb 9, 2016 flag
5 Vote

Very good question. With my limited experience I have found that 'that which' for 'lo que' always gives a sensible English translation even if it sounds a little old fashioned.

'What' in English can be interrogative or (I think) a pronoun, but in Spanish the two uses are distinguished by the tilde. So 'qué' starts a question. But 'que' in the middle of a sentence is sometimes like the other use of what in English, but it can mean 'than' as well.

I am not 100% certain about your second example but it doesn't look quite right to me because you have written 'qué' and the second 'what' in your example is not interrogative; the question is in '¿él te dijo ...?'. In fact, the 'what' introduces an indirect object clause which is exactly how I would interpret 'lo que él me dijo'.

You do hear 'what' used incorrectly in English sometimes -

'Did I show you the iPod what I found?' The speaker means 'that', but if you don't specify the indirect object 'Did I show you what I found?' is good usage today and 'Did I show you that which I found?' is accurate but does sound rather old fashioned.

  • nice answer, jespa, getting my vote - 00494d19 Oct 18, 2009 flag
  • Thanks! - Jespa Oct 18, 2009 flag
  • What region are you from? No native speaker I've ever seen has said that. If you have heard it, I'd say it's an anomally or an ACTUAL pronunciation mistake, but it's by no means a pattern among native speakers. - Hyperlingual Apr 23, 2014 flag
2 Vote

To throw in some confusion: if you are studying the difference between que/lo que/and qué you should also consider the use of qué in indirect questions and the difference between que and lo que as relative pronouns.

includes indirect question usage

No sé dónde está. (I don't know where he is.) (it is dónde; not donde and qué can be used similarly)

que/lo que as relative pronouns Which to use according to distance from antecedent.

And to make you wonder about indirect question use:

Tip: when the word “what” appears in a sentence and is not a question word, it is normally translated as lo que.

  • that relative pronouns link is excellent. Thank you Qfreed! - billygoat Jan 30, 2012 flag
1 Vote

This is a good question. I will tell you my opinion. Que = "that", or at the beginning of the sentence it can mean "what". "Lo que" in the middle of the sentence means "what" but is not always used the same way as we would use it in English. For the beginning student I would just remember that in middle of a sentence "lo que" = "what" and at the beginning it means either "what" or "that" depending on context, whereas in the middle it usually means "that" although it can also mean "what".. Due to my browser being Opera, I am unable to produce the tilde accent mark. FYI these are the types of questions that I love to see in this forum.

  • These are the types of questions that I like to ask and Im encouraged by your eagerness to help! Thanks for your input! - wallpaper Oct 18, 2009 flag
1 Vote

All very good explanations, thank you very much. And it seems that I can rationalize most of my questions about 'lo que' by considering all of your tips in combination! Thank you!

1 Vote

Do (que' es lo que hacer muy bien) give the same meaning to (que' puedes hacer muy bien)

and instead of saying que' es lo que no puedes hacer can i say que' no puedes hacer and also give the same meaning

1 Vote

I love all the replies I never knew lo que = qué and only use qué in questions

1 Vote

More of this difference is in the meaning; so, if you say (que), this means that you are considering undefined matter; while, (lo que), this means that you are explaining direct and a more defined matter..... It will be sometimes similar to the rule of (su) and (a su)


yo veo que tù hablas...... I see that you speak ( you see him speaking only )

yo veo lo que tù hablas..... I see what you speak ( you see and understand )

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