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A long time ago in Spanish class, we were taught that "it" was literally ello but is rarely translated that way. I was thinking about the word recently, and realized I don't know if I've ever (at least consciously) noticed it being used in spoken Spanish.

How often is ello used in informal, spoken speech? In what circumstances can it be used? Are there any sentences that require it (i.e. can't be expressed another way)?

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4 Answers 4

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The Diccionario panhispánico de dudas (DPD) calls ello the neutral form of the the tonic third-person singular pronoun and mentions that The syntactical properties of ello have diminished and some normal uses in previous eras have disappeared. Nevertheless, the DPD lists the following current usage cases:

Ello as the terminus of a preposition:

Ana trató de localizarlos en cuanto tuvo fuerzas para ello.

Which roughtly translated means:

Ana tried to find them as soon as she had the strength for it.

It being Ana's act of trying to find them.

Ello as an indirect compliment:

Los hombres superiores son virtuosos y a ello debían también sus dones.

Which roughly translates to

Superior men are virtuous and to that they owed their gifts.

Where that refers to the fact that superior men are virtuous.

As a subject (rare, usually only in written form):

Typically equivalent to lo cual:

Sé que fue casi atroz mientras duró. Ello no significa que su relato pueda conmover a un tercero.

Which roughly translates to

I know it was almost atrocious while it lasted. This does not mean that its telling could affect a third person.

Where this refers to whatever act was almost atrocious.

With the verb ser:

Solo quiero consolarte, hasta donde ello es posible.

Which translates to

I only want to comfort you, as far as it is possible.

Where it refers to the act of comforting.

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Ello would be the word for "It" when it is a personal pronoun. For example:

Ello es muy pesado. (it is very heavy)

the problem is that prononuns are usually omitted. So you'd hear:

Es muy pesado.

Sometimes we can't ommit it (usually because it's an expression or a verb with compulsory preposition), for example in sentences like:

Vamos a arreglarlo, para ello necesitamos algo de tiempo. (We're going to fix. For this, we need some time.)

Estoy en ello (I'm at it)

So you're only hear in spoken (and also in written) language inexpression like

por ello para ello todo ello

and with the verbs with a compulsory preposition.

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There's a term in linguistics for languages which often omit pronouns, "pro-drop languages", but there are languages such as Japanese which can leave out a lot more things which are not optional in Spanish by the way. –  hippietrail Dec 16 '11 at 18:52
    
I thought "Estoy en ello" would translate as "I'm on it" and not "I'm at it". Sorry if I'm wrong –  César Dec 19 '11 at 17:41

"Ello" is the neuter gender (género neutro) 3rd person pronoun for "it", deriving from Latin neuter form "illud". However, it is rare because neuter gender is rare in Spanish.

If "it" refers to almost any kind of noun, it would have masculine or feminine gender ("el cuento", "la imagen", etc.) So the only use of neuter gender is to refer to an action or situation like "Me enfrenté con mi jefe y pagué por ello". Notice how "it" doesn't refer to any kind of noun here---it refers to the verb phrase "me enfrenté".

The other Spanish demonstratives also have neuter forms: esto, eso, aquello.

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The word in Mex/Spanish can be used in at least two similar yet different forms.

  1. ello= his in the second person possessive tense as in whose is it,«De quien es?»

  2. ello= him mostly in the third person indicative as in who do you think did it? «Quien le hicido?» as in accordance to use of the conjugated verb «hacer» in the past tense perfect.

Note: The word can also be used in the second person imperfect of used to in the presence of the person being indicated/implicated. Jaime is absolutely right as to dropping words "in order to avoid saying more than enough." Laziness in diction is a noted trait among Mexicans. Takes one to know one, I am one.

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In my experience Mexican Spanish diction is not lazy at all. It (and Guatemalan) Spanish were the clearest and easiest to understand and learn from because people pronounce every letter/sound. There were more and more slurred or dropped sounds as I ventured further south into Central America. (I don't have much experience in the north of Mexico though if it's different there.) –  hippietrail Dec 18 '11 at 10:33

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