How to use "lo que" and "lo cual"

How to use "lo que" and "lo cual"


Let's start with que and cual, I wrote a blogpost about the differences between que and cual and how to use each of them. Also, this post on the different meanings of que and qué, both with and without the accent mark.

If you have read those or know about the subject, you know that there might be similarities, but actually most of the time it's clearly one or the other, except for now. Let's have a look:

A neutral fact

We can always use both lo que and lo cual when it's referring to a fact, and we use it with the neutral lo. It's translated as "which".

  • No me llamó cuando estaba en el hospital, lo que no me gustó or no me llamó cuando estaba en el hospital, lo cual no me gustó - She/he didn't call me when I was in the hospital, which I didn't like.

The FACT that he/she didn't call me is what I didn't like.

Referring to a noun and there's a preposition

Another time we can use them interchancheably it's generally when it refers to a noun (thing, animal, person or concept) AND there's a preposition connecting both parts of the sentence like "in which", "with which", "to which",... It can be also translated as "whom" for a person.

In this case, the article lo changes to adapt to the number and gender of that noun: la cual, el cual, los cuales, las cuales or el que, la que, los que, las que.

The order would be: preposition + article + que/cual or cuales:

Esta es la película de la que te hablaba / Esta es la película de la cual te hablaba - This is the movie I was talking to you about / This is the movie of which I was talking to you.

The first English translation sounds more natural but we have to remember the second translation to see that preposition in between the two parts. Same in the next one:

¿Has conocido al chico con el que se casó María? / ¿Has conocido al chico con el cual se casó María? - Have you met the guy Maria got married to (or married)? / Have you met the guy with whom Maria got married?

Se publicó un nuevo documento en el que/en el cual se explican los cambios más recientes - A new document was published in which they explain the most recent changes.

It can be a "prepositional phrase" which is just more than one word that work as an unit, as a preposition. Don't worry because it ends with a preposition you'll recognise, like: A consecuencia de, gracias a, a pesar de...

Encontramos un curso gracias al que/ gracias al cual aprendimos mucho - We found a course thanks to which we learnt a lot.

Clarifying (with a comma) AND preposition

Sometimes there's a clarification, explanation, information after the noun introduced by a comma, with a preposition, and and it follows the same idea as the previous case (referring to a noun and having a preposition in the connecting part). This can be transalted as which or who, sometimes the preposition shows up in the translation, sometimes not!

Jose invitó a sus amigos, a los que/ a los cuales no conozco muy bien - Jose invited his friends, who/which I don't know very well.
As you can see on this blog about the preposition a we need it here before a person (this is sometimes called "personal a").

Fuimos a un bar muy pijo, en el que/en el cual nunca había estado antes - We went to a very posh bar, in which I had never been before.

The simple "that"

We can still have the option of clarifying (introducing it with a comma) or not.

The key here is that neither one of these two options for the simple "that" (que) will have a preposition.

Clarifying (with a comma) but NO preposition

Here is where we can use the simple que instead of using "el/la/lo/los/las que" or the equivalent with "cual".

Jose invitó a sus amigos, los que/los cuales no son muy simpáticos OR, the easier José invitó a sus amigos, que no son muy simpáticos.

My impression is that we tend to use the cual/es form with people or go directly to the easy que.

Podemos usar que en este caso, lo que/lo cual/que es más simple por supuesto - We can use que in this case, which/that is simpler, of course, a bit of a meta example for you!

No comma, no preposition, just "that".

If there's no preposition linking the first and second part of our sentence and we still refer to a noun, we just use que. The translation here is "that".

Esta es la película que vi - This is the movie that I saw.

  • See how I rephrase two of the previous examples in a way that doesn't require a preposition, because the "that" will be referring to the subject of the second sentence, instead of more indirectly:

Conocí al chico que se casó con María - I met the guy that got married to María. (he married her, instead of "the guy Maria got married to).

Han publicado un documento que explica los últimos cambios - They have published a document that explains the last changes. (the document explains the changes, instead of "in which the changes are explained).

  • Sometimes the que doesn't refer to a subject in the second clause, it just connects both sentences, so in this case you'll notice that we don't use it in English, it's optional, whereas in Spanish it's not:

Estas son las flores que compré - These are the flowers (that) I bought (I bought them, I'm the subject, in English I don't need the that but in Spanish I do).

Pienso que no es buena idea - I think (that) it's not a good idea. Same thing here.

What I suggest is you try to use that "that" in the English sentence in your mind and if it's right, although not necessary, then that's your sign to use it in Spanish.

  • Finally, to highlight the difference between que and lo que/lo cual let's see this sentence:

No incluyeron la escena que yo dirigí, lo que me molestó un poco/ No incluyeron la escena que yo dirigí, lo cual me molestó un poco
They didn't include the scene (that) I directed, which bothered me a little.

The que is a simple "that", which sometimes can be taken out in English (when it's not the subject of the second clause) and the "lo que"/lo cual" is a "which", and in this case neutral for a fact, and if we change that lo then it can adapt to refer to a specific thing or person, introduced with or without a preposition and with or without a comma.

We need cual when...

It's called "complemento partitivo" and it's basically when we talk about an amount and then we divide it in parts in the second part of the sentence. Therefore, it's always going to be plural "los cuales" or "las cuales" and it will look like this:

Ellos tienen cuatro coches, dos de los cuales tienen en el garaje - They have four cars, two of which they have in the garage.

Tienen tres casas, una de las cuales fue heredada de su padre - They have three houses, one of which was passed down from their father.

Long lesson today, I hope it has been of help! We'll be definitely polishing this in class and practicing!

¡Hasta pronto! :)