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Que vs lo que

6
votes

Does anyone know when to use que vs. lo que to me "what"?

For instance, my friend who's Mexican and speaks Spanish fluently, said "You know what to say" is "Sabes que decir" And I thought it would be "Sabes lo que decir".

So now, I'm confused.

8805 views
updated ABR 23, 2010
posted by Erin

18 Answers

4
votes

Okay, I've got a good Spanish grammar book that deals with so many of these thorny issues called A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish (4th edition), and it addresses this very question on page 356.

Either qué or lo que are possible in indirect questions...except immediately before an infinitive, when qué is required and lo que may sound uneducated.

(emphasis theirs)

So, had the example phrase been, "I know what I will say," then you could have said either "Sé qué diré" OR "Sé lo que diré," but, since the phrase was "I know what to say," the infinitive decir was used so qué was required.

That is to say, both qué and lo que mean the same thing in this case (what), but, due to the fact it preceded an infinitive (decir), qué had to be used.

So, to break it down further, morbo's first example ("Sabes lo que tienes que decir") works with lo que because tienes is NOT an infinitive. And, if I understand correctly, he could also have said "Sabes qué tienes que decir" without any change in meaning (although, I have a feeling that lo que would be more common).

(I actually bought my copy off of ebay and it looks like this).

updated MAR 9, 2013
edited by webdunce
posted by webdunce
I GOT IT!!!!!!!! That's just the explanation I needed. Webdunce thank you! And thanks to Jack too! Putting this one to bed, signed: Erin. "the former lo que dunce" - Erin, ABR 22, 2010
I have this book...it's really great! - --Mariana--, ABR 22, 2010
"The former lo que dunce".... I love it :~) - Jack-OBrien, ABR 23, 2010
5
votes

Erin, here's another example. Remember, lo que usually means that which

  • Lo que quieres no existe.
  • That which you want does not exist.
  • No comprendo lo que ocurre.
  • I do not understand that which is happening.

From the previous example

  • Sabes lo que tienes qué decir. You know that which you have to/must say.
  • Ya sabes qué decir. You already know what to say.
  • Sabes qué decir. You know what to say.

¿Claro?

updated ENE 8, 2016
posted by Jack-OBrien
Sabes lo que tienes que decir. No accent on either que (the second one is part of a "tener que" phrase). - tennismom, ABR 21, 2010
That's not my example, I cut and pasted it from the previous post. Thanks. - Jack-OBrien, ABR 21, 2010
3
votes
  • Sabes lo que tienes qué decir. You know what you have to/must say.
  • Ya sabes qué decir. You already know what to say.
  • Sabes qué decir. You know what to say.
updated ABR 21, 2010
edited by AntMexico
posted by AntMexico
2
votes

Lo que means something that is already known and que is something thats not known.

updated ENE 8, 2016
posted by Rey_Mysterio
2
votes

Ok, one last try. When what you are talking about ISN’T a particular noun but rather an idea, a wish, a situation, or something that happened in the past, you will need to use lo que. Lo que can also mean that, what, or that which.

  • La verdad es que todo es lo que te mostré no es mío.
  • The truth is all that I showed you is not mine.
  • Lo que no entiendo es por que no me dijiste inmediatamente.
  • What I don't understand is why you didn't tell me immediately.
updated ENE 8, 2016
posted by Jack-OBrien
2
votes

Hello, Can anyone explain (without guessing) why one of these sentences has 'lo que' and the others only have 'que' - when in english, they all 3 include "know what".

  • Sabes lo que tienes qué decir. You know what you have to/must say.
  • Ya sabes qué decir. You already know what to say.
  • Sabes qué decir. You know what to say.
updated ENE 8, 2016
posted by Erin
2
votes

OK, I'm kind of getting it but I'm still puzzled over these 2 sentences.

Sabes lo que tienes que decir. You know what you have to say.

Sabes que decir. You know what to say.

To me, they mean almost the same thing.

A couple of things you need to understand is, the difference between lo que and que is something you have to become familiar with, through usage and hearing them, plus, these words are particularly precise in their usage.
You are correct, they do mean almost the same thing.

Maybe another example....
Let's say we were having an argument, I said something to you, and immediately I knew that I had said the wrong thing. You question me about it, and I say:

  • Lo que quise decir es que tienes razón.
  • What I meant to say is that you're right.

Lo que (what) is something that I said and not a particular noun. It's not really an object in the physical sense.

Regarding the previous example, Lo que no entiendo es por que no me dijiste inmediatamente.

Lo que is referring to something I don't understand, a thought, a concept, not a physical 'thing', not to mention it also happened in the past.

On the other hand, if we were talking about a person or a thing we would use que

La mujer está manejando el carro que chocó con el edificio.

I think you can feel in this example that lo que wouldn't fit correctly.

It's late and I'm probably not making sense. Hopefully this isn't too bad. smile

updated NOV 1, 2013
edited by Jack-OBrien
posted by Jack-OBrien
Now I think I've understood Jack - Thanks. - ian-hill, ABR 22, 2010
But La mujer "está" manejando el carro que "chocó" con el edificio. Are these two verbs "compatible" in this sentence? - ian-hill, ABR 22, 2010
1
vote

I also found this thread .

updated OCT 19, 2011
posted by 00494d19
1
vote

I have to agree with Erin.

With all the examples I still don´t know when to use "lo que! and when to use "Qué"

Is there not a definitive answer to this question?

updated OCT 19, 2011
posted by ian-hill
Did you not understand my post? Help me to understand what is not clear about it. Thanks! - Jack-OBrien, ABR 21, 2010
Look at Nila's post below - she says she has a "preference" when it comes to "qué" and "lo que" and she is Spanish. - ian-hill, ABR 22, 2010
1
vote

Hi Erin, I had been looking around and finally found this today, I think this is very clear, let me know:

Concerning "lo que" vs. "qué," they are both used as pronouns replacing dependent noun clauses, however, "qué" implies a question, while "lo que" does not. They are both translated as "what". Some examples:

No sé qué hacer - I don't know what to do. Qué is used because this is an indirect question, sort of asking "what should I do?"

Sabes qué es un castor? - Do you know what a beaver is? The speaker does not know what "un castor" is and is asking for a definition of it.

Sabes lo que es un castor? - Do you know what a beaver is? This, however, asks for a yes or no answer. The speaker knows what "un castor" is, but wants to know if the listener also knows.

updated ABR 23, 2010
posted by 00494d19
Ok, this makes sense, and it follows suit with using que before an infinitive. Thanks! - Erin, ABR 23, 2010
1
vote

This seems to demand something more like a forum than a simple answer service. Please Nila can you give us an opinion on:

"Hago que quiero" or "Hago lo que quiero"

I'd find that interesting too.

updated ABR 23, 2010
posted by geofc
1
vote

"Hago que quiero" is completely incorrect.

"Hago lo que quiero" is correct.

It is impossible to say "que quiero" porque it is not a relative sentence.

Esta es la casa que quiero (relative sentence).

No sé qué decir.

No sé lo que decir.

No sé lo que quiero decir.

These last sentences are indirect questions. Then, I prefer to use "lo que" when the verb in the clause sentence is conjugated.

updated ABR 23, 2010
edited by nila45
posted by nila45
1
vote

I prefer to use "qué" when there is an infinitive after it and "lo que" when the verb after it is conjugated.

No sé qué comprar.

No sé lo que quiero comprar.

I mean, when I am using this type of sentence: Saber + something.

updated ABR 23, 2010
edited by nila45
posted by nila45
Nila - this illustrates the problem for us non-native Spanish speakers - it is your "preference" and you are Spanish. - ian-hill, ABR 22, 2010
1
vote

I remember being totally confused by this but the pain went away over the years and I found (that) I was not only understanding but even, so it seemed, getting it right. I can only say, Erin, that it seems to be one of those things that you simply have to put to one side, admit that you, like me, can get it wrong and just keep on trying.

Maybe somewhere the grammar book has a rule but I never found it and I lost my late wife's copy of Harmer and Naughton (used to be THE standard Spanish grammar in the UK) when I moved to Texas.

updated ABR 23, 2010
posted by geofc
1
vote

OK, I'm kind of getting it but I'm still puzzled over these 2 sentences.

Sabes lo que tienes que decir. You know what you have to say.

Sabes que decir. You know what to say.

To me, they mean almost the same thing.

?

Jack - thank you SO MUCH for getting me this far! I hope you might be able to explain these 2 sentences.

updated ABR 23, 2010
posted by Erin
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