Today we’re going to attempt to clear up what appears to be a common confusion with the words “este” and “esto”. In fact, this confusion can also extend to words like “ese” and “eso” and even “aquel” and “aquello”.
So, what is this confusion all about?
“Este”, “esto” and “esta” all mean this
and are demonstrative pronouns. As adjectives though, we are used to seeing both masculine and feminine versions of words usually ending in either -o
. Therefore, because of this association with masculine adjectives ending in -o
we often make an assumptions that “esto” must be masculine (yet it is not).
In actual fact “este” is the masculine form of the word this
with “esta” being the feminine form. This means “esto” is in fact a neuter
So how and why do we use the neuter form “esto”?
The neuter form “esto” is used to express the word this
when the noun is mentioned separately or when the noun is unknown or even if its gender is simply unimportant. Let’s see some examples:
|Spanish ||Meaning ||Notes |
|“¿Que es esto?” ||What is this? ||As no actual thing is mentioned or known we can use the neuter form |
|“Esto es una rata” ||This (thing) is a rat ||Whilst we could use “esta” in place of “esto”, it is still mentioned separately from the noun, so we can still use the neuter form |
|“Esto rata es una mascota” ||This rat is a pet ||This statement isn't correct as the word this is accompanying the noun, therefore we may not use the neuter form |
|“Esta rata es una mascota” ||This rat is a pet ||“Esta” is indeed the feminine form and agrees with the noun, therefore this statement is correct |
|“¿Te gusta este coche?” ||Do you like this car? ||As a car is a masculine word we must use the “este” form |
|“¿Te gusta esto coche?” ||Do you like this car? ||Remember “esto” is the neuter form and not the masculine form, thus may not be used when accompanying the noun |
|"No sé por qué, pero quiero esto ||I don't know why, but I want this ||As this statement describes an abstract idea and doesn’t mention a noun then we may use the neuter form |
As mentioned at the top of this article: a similar confusion may also occur with words like “eso” (that)
and “aquello” (that over there)
which despite ending in -o
are indeed neuter forms. Conclusion | En conclusión
Having a neuter form for some words may seem like a strange concept especially as we’ve been learning how important gender agreement usually is in Spanish. However, clearly there are moments when we simply do not know the gender of something. Then of course it does make sense that we have a way to reference unknow things.
Equally, if we consider that often we are speaking very much “on the hoof” and don’t really know what we are going to say next, then being able to start sentences with words like “Esto es…” affords us the chance to start a statement without necessarily needing to “pre-load” any specific gender. This can be rather useful.