Given this sentence:

Pero no era un silencio del todo incómodo. En él se hicieron amigos.

'Él' refers to 'un silencio', if I am not mistaken. Is it just regular grammar, or something special? Poetic, say?


Preposition + "él"/"ella" is a perfectly normal construction.

Nominative personal pronouns (like "él" and "ella") are seldom used in Spanish, except when they refer to people, and even then they are often dropped. You would never say something like:

Me gusta mi viejo coche. *Él es rojo.

However, the pronoun is not being used in the nominative here, as it is preceded by a preposition. Some personal pronouns change when they are preceded by a preposition: "yo" becomes "mí" and "tú" becomes "ti" (and "usted", "él", "ella", "ustedes", "ellos" and "ellas" sometimes become "sí", but only when they refer to the subject). Other pronouns remain the same. While nominative pronouns can usually be dropped, pronouns that are preceded by a preposition cannot. Thus, we use them even when we refer to inanimate things:

Vendí mi viejo coche. Me dieron por él 1000 euros.

  • An adverb would be more usual: Por ahí salió un hombre. – Gustavson Mar 5 '20 at 17:16
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    @Gustavson Maybe in that specific case, but not always. "Vendí mi viejo coche. Me dieron por él 1000 euros." – OnlyThenDidIReckonMyCurse Mar 5 '20 at 17:21
  • Can you say something about "ello?" – aris Mar 8 '20 at 15:38

The text sounds poetic (they became friends in the silence), but from the grammatical point of view it's just perfectly normal. The pronoun él represents el silencio, a masculine word. Had it been a feminine word, it would have used the pronoun ella: se vieron en la calle, en ella se hicieron amigos.

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    An adverb would be more usual: Allí se hicieron amigos. – Gustavson Mar 5 '20 at 17:16

"it" is not usually translated as "él", especially when it refers to objects or situations. "él" might be a more usual translation when "it" refers to animals.

In the sentence at issue:

Pero no era un silencio del todo incómodo. En él se hicieron amigos.

"él" does sound somewhat poetic. My impression is that the use of the pronoun increases the importance of the silence as the environment in which they made friends, as if the silence had somehow aided in their becoming friends.

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    A more common, non-poetic use: "Tengo un bolígrafo amarillo y no sé qué hacer con él". – wimi Mar 5 '20 at 13:53
  • @wimi The difference is that "bolígrafo" is concrete while "silencio" is abstract. Perhaps I should have clarified that. – Gustavson Mar 5 '20 at 14:02

My main concern is not around él, but in the preposition en, since it conveys more a meaning of place.

Since the silence is more about the lapse of time while it lasted, I would use another word, more prone to convey a time meaning:

Pero no era un silencio del todo incómodo. Durante él se hicieron amigos.

Or this one:

Pero no era un silencio del todo incómodo. Durante él fue que se hicieron amigos.

  • Choosing "en" over an alternative sounds poetic, but the question is about using "él" to refer to a concept or an inanimate being. – OnlyThenDidIReckonMyCurse Mar 5 '20 at 22:48
  • @OnlyThenDidIReckonMyCurse you're right. My point is that changing the "en" makes even clearer that using the pronoun "él" is right. – Nicolás Ozimica Mar 6 '20 at 19:02

silencio is a masculine noun, that's why it goes with él, this is perfectly normal, or regular grammar.

On the other hand, ello exists, as the neutral pronoun, but as silencio is masculine, then we must use él.

I will give you an example of ello: 'Tienes que recoger tu habitación. Estoy en ello'

  • why not 'ella' for habitacion? – aris Mar 8 '20 at 15:37
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    @aris in that sentence, "Estoy en ello" means "I am working on it", and "ello" refers to the act of tidying up the room, not to the room itself. – wimi Mar 10 '20 at 21:04

It is correct, él, with diacritic, is the pronoun for masculin nouns (or masculin noun phrase), it goes with diacritic to differiatiate it from the masculin article el.

So, whenever you have to replace a masculine noun by a pronoun the form to use is él.


Juan vino caminando, él tardó mucho en llegar.

El perro come mucho, él está muy gordo.

El puente no se puede cruzar, él está muy viejo.

The only thing that should be sayd is that, at least in all these exemples, in Spanish you could elide the pronoun in the completive sentences and it would be also ok.

Juan vino caminando, tardó mucho en llegar.

El perro come mucho, está muy gordo.

El puente no se puede cruzar, está muy viejo.

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