‘Eso’ and ‘aquello’ both translate to ‘that’ or ‘that one’ in Spanish …
But can you use them interchangeably? Is there something that sets them apart?
In short – when referring to an unknown noun, ‘eso’ is *generally* used when the thing you’re referring to is FAR from the speaker and CLOSE to the listener, whereas ‘aquello’ is only used when something is FAR from both the speaker and the listener. They can, though, be used interchangeably when referring to abstract ideas.
Stick around to find out all the juicy deets!
Both ‘eso’ and ‘aquello’ are used in the following ways –
1 To refer to something of unknown gender that’s FAR AWAY from BOTH the speaker AND his/her interlocuter.
¿Alcanzas a ver eso/aquello? = Can you see that thing over there?
2 To refer to something that was mentioned recently (i.e., an abstract idea).
¿Puedes repetir eso/aquello que acabas de decir? = Can you repeat what you just said?
3 In general statements (again referring to abstract ideas).
Eso/Aquello es ridículo = That’s ridiculous
However, ‘eso’ is also used in the following ways –
1 To refer to something of unknown gender that’s FAR AWAY from the speaker, but CLOSE to the listener.
¿Me puedes pasar eso a tu derecha? = Can you pass me that thing on your right?
2 To talk about your personal experiences in the RECENT past.
Fui a Woodstock en 1969. Creo que eso fue lo mejor de mi vida = I went to Woodstock in 1969. I think that might have been the best thing I’ve ever done
3 In Mexican Spanish, ‘eso’ is also used to mean ‘exactly’, ‘right on’ or ‘great idea’
‘Aquello’ is also used in the following way –
1 To talk about the DISTANT past
Aquello que ocurrió durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial fue horrible = The things that happened during the II World War were horrible
‘Eso’ vs ‘aquello’
Okay, so let’s start with a quick review of exactly what demonstrative pronouns are!
They’re basically words that we use when pointing at / identifying specific people and things.
The English equivalents would be ‘this’ (‘this one’), ‘that’ (‘that one’), ‘these’ (‘these ones’) and ‘those’ (‘those ones’).
Imagine that there are various pens on a desk and your interlocuter is talking about one of them, you could say “This one?” (or “¿Este?’ in Spanish) to ask which pen he/she is referring to.
Just remember that UNLIKE “demonstrative adjectives” that go BEFORE A NOUN, demonstrative pronouns actually REPLACE NOUNS.
Juan – ¿Cuál camisa prefieres?
Alonso – Esa.
Juan – Which shirt do you prefer?
Alonso – That one.
For this article, we’ll focus mainly on the NEUTER ‘eso’ and ‘aquello’, but it’s also important for you to know that there are masculine and feminine demonstrative pronouns too!
Here’s a little table in case you need to brush up on the grammar–
|this / this one (close)||esto||este||esta|
|that / that one (far from speaker + close to listener)||eso||ese||esa|
|that / that one (VERY far away from both listener and speaker)||aquello||aquel||aquella|
Ok, ok … but what about ‘eso’ and ‘aquello’?
Well, they’re the NEUTER demonstrative pronouns, so they’re used to refer to an UNKNOWN OBJECT or an ABSTRACT IDEA (i.e., things without gender or of UNKNOWN gender).
‘Eso’ implies closeness. ‘Aquello’ indicates remoteness.
Both ‘eso’ and ‘aquello’ are used to refer to something of UNKNOWN gender.
Imagine that you’re buying spices at a market and you’re not sure what exactly all the spices are. Well, in this situation in Spanish, you’re going to use ‘esto’, ‘eso’, or ‘aquello’ to refer to the different (unknown) spices.
Tú – ¿Y eso qué es?
Vendedor – Este es azafrán.
Tú – Ah, ok … ¿Y aquello? (apunta hacía la especia más alejada)
Vendedor – Aquella es cúrcuma. Se usa mucho en la comida hindú.
You – And what’s that one?
Seller – It’s saffron.
You – Ah, ok … and that one over there?
Seller – That one’s turmeric. It’s used a lot in Indian food.
So, the most important difference between ‘eso’ and ‘aquello’ is the proximity of the object you’re referring to in relation to yourself AND your interlocutor.
We use ‘eso’ to describe something unknown that’s not close to the speaker but IS close to the listener.
BOTH ‘aquello’ AND ‘eso’ can be used when we’re talking about something unknown that’s FAR AWAY from both the listener and the speaker.
The difference between ‘eso’ and ‘aquello’ can be quite nuanced, but it’s often useful to think of ‘eso’ as “relating to us” (both the speaker and the listener) and ‘aquello’ as “relating to neither of us” (i.e., super distant from both the speaker and the listener).
Erika’s top tip – a good translation of ‘aquello’ when referring to an unknown object is often ‘that thing over there’.
Let’s have a look at some examples –
Moisés – ¿Qué es eso?
Clara – ¿Qué?
Moisés – Eso que traes en el suéter …
Clara – Ah, se supone que es un oso panda, pero apenas estoy aprendiendo a tejer.
Moisés – What’s that?
Clara – What?
Moisés – That thing on your sweater …
Clara – Ah, it’s supposed to be a panda, but I’m just learning to knit.
Quetzalli – ¿Ves aquello arriba en la montaña?
Ramón – ¿Aquella construcción en ruinas?
Quetzalli – Sí. Solía ser una hacienda azucarera y ahora está abandonada.*
Quetzalli – See that up on the mountain?
Ramon – That building in ruins?
Quetzalli – Yes. It used to be a sugar hacienda and now it’s abandoned.
*Erika’s top tip – notice that we use BOTH ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ in this sentence … ‘ser’ is used to talk about more permanent characteristics and ‘estar’ those which are more fleeting. Check out our article on ‘soy’ vs ‘estoy’ if you’d like to know more!
‘Aquello’ can indicate not only distance in space (i.e., things that are VERY FAR AWAY from you), but also in time (i.e., the DISTANT PAST) –
Maestro – ¿En qué año asesinaron a Julio César?
Alumno – Aquello fue en el año 44 a.C.
Teacher – In which year was Julius Caesar killed?
Student – That was in the year 44 BC.
We also use ‘eso’ to talk about the past, but *normally* the RECENT past as experienced by the speaker –
¡Eso fue una época muy dura!
Here the speaker is likely referring to a period of his/her life or the RECENT past
¡Aquello fue una época muy dura!
Here the speaker is likely referring to a period in which he/she was NOT alive (i.e., the distant past)
*Erika’s note – there’s definitely some overlap here; just make sure that you’re using ‘aquello’ when speaking about the REALLY DISTANT past.
‘Eso’ and ‘aquello’ can also be used interchangeably when referring to abstract ideas.
In this instance, they’re often synonyms of ‘what’ (i.e., when referring to ‘the thing that’) –
Lucha por eso / aquello que sueñas y vivirás sin arrepentimientos.
Fight for what you most desire and you shall live without regrets.
Eso / aquello que dijiste es muy cierto.
What you said is very true.
They can also both be used with the verb ‘ser’ when making “general statements” –
¡Eso / Aquello es absurdo!
Eso / Aquello fue horrible.
That was horrible.
‘Eso’ as a colloquial expression
In Mexico you’re likely to hear the word ‘eso’ used with an entirely different meaning to those mentioned above.
That’s because it’s also a colloquial expression meaning something along the lines of ‘exactly’, ‘right on’, or ‘great idea’.
Let´s have a look at an example –
Luis – ¡Barbara y yo nos besamos anoche!
Juan – ¡Eso!
Luis – Barbara and I kissed last night!
Juan – Right on!
Erika’s note – make sure to check out our article about ‘eso’ when used as a colloquial expression if you’d like to find out more.
Phew, that was quite some article!
Hopefully you’ve now mastered ‘eso’ and ‘aquello’! Maybe next time you talk to your Spanish-speaking friends, you’ll even put them into practice.
Oh, and if you feel in the mood for more challenging vocabulary, then head on over to our explanation of the differences between ‘quisiera’ and ‘me gustaría’ (sneak peek: it’s SUPER useful!).