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How to say “could” in Spanish

Let’s learn the rest of the essential conjugations of Poder, including the past tense, the future tense, and the subjunctive, so that we can say “was able”, “will be able”, “would be able”, and “could”.

Full Podcast Episode


Could we?... Yeah we could.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Today we’re going to learn the rest of the essential conjugations of Poder, our verb for “can” or “to be able”. The new forms that we learn will allow us to say things like “we could do it”, “you will be able to have that”, and “they weren’t able to be there”.

To begin with, let’s learn the imperfect past tense. The basic form is podía, which is very much like Tener’s tenía and Hacer’s hacía. So we have podía, podías, podían, and podíamos.

Let’s practice these.

You were always able to do this.

Siempre podías hacer esto.

She wasn’t able to have those things.

No podía tener esas cosas.

 You (formal) were always able to do it.

 Usted siempre podía hacerlo.

We weren’t able to do the things that way.

No podíamos hacer las cosas de esa forma.

I was able to study for a long time when I was at home

Podía to study por mucho tiempo cuando estaba en casa.

Podía estudiar por mucho tiempo cuando estaba en casa.

They weren’t able to be friends.

No podían ser amigos.

Poder also has a couple of common preterite forms. These are used to emphasize a specific moment or attempt at doing something. Here’s an example: Let’s say we want to say “I wasn’t able to do it”. There are two things we might mean by that. As a general statement, “I wasn’t able to do it” would be No lo podía hacer. In the general past, I didn’t have the ability to do it. But what if there was a specific moment when I tried to do it but couldn’t? Then I might use the preterite. The word for this is pretty strange: It’s pude, spelled p-u-d-e. So here’s that sentence:

No lo pude hacer.

This implies not just that I didn’t have the ability to do it, but that there was a specific moment when I probably attempted to do it but didn’t succeed. Another way to translate this might be “I didn’t manage to do it.” So for example:

Yes, I managed to do it that day.

Sí, lo pude hacer ese día.

The other common preterite form is pudo, which is the third person singular, as in “he was able” or “she was able”. Notice that these forms, pude and pudo, are a lot like the preterite forms of Tener, tuve and tuvo.

Let’s practice these a bit. In all of these next four examples, we’re using the preterite.

I studied all day, but I couldn’t pass the exam.

I studied todo el día, pero no pude to pass the exam.

Estudié todo el día, pero no pude pasar el examen.

He couldn’t lift what I asked him.

No pudo to lift lo que le I asked.

No pudo levantar lo que le pedí.

Yes, I managed to complete the last level!

¡Sí, pude to complete the last level!

¡Sí, pude completar el último nivel!

You (formal) managed to do what we did.

Usted pudo hacer lo que hicimos.

Poder’s future tense is a lot like Tener’s. Instead of “poderé” and “poderá”, we have podré and podrá. For example, in a formal voice:

You won’t be able to do that.

Usted no podrá hacer eso.

And then the conditional forms are podría, podrías, podrían, and podríamos.

Let’s practice the future and conditional.

I would be able to go, but I won’t do it.

Podría ir, pero no lo haré.

I will be able to visit my family.

Podré to visit a mi family.

Podré visitar a mi familia.

You would be able to do it if you tried.

Podrías hacerlo si you tried.

Podrías hacerlo si lo intentaras.

He won’t be able to do it.

No podrá hacerlo.

We would be able to do it, if you let us.

Podríamos hacerlo, si nos you let.

Podríamos hacerlo, si nos dejaras.

Now let’s go to the subjunctive. Most of these forms are based on pueda. So for example instead of ella puede, for the subjunctive we have ella pueda. We also have yo pueda, tú puedas, ellos puedan, and nosotros podamos.

Let’s practice these.

I want us to be able to go.

I want que podamos ir.

Quiero que podamos ir.

I hope you (formal) can be with us.

I hope que usted pueda estar con nosotros.

Espero que usted pueda estar con nosotros.

She hopes that you can be here.

Ella hopes que puedas estar aquí.

Ella espera que puedas estar aquí.

You’re right, she did it so that they can be here.

Tienes razón, ella lo hizo para que puedan estar aquí.

She wants me to be able to have it.

Ella wants que yo pueda tenerlo.

Ella quiere que yo pueda tenerlo.

The only form we have left to learn is the past tense subjunctive, pudiera. This rhymes with other past tense subjunctives we’ve learned, such as fuera and tuviera, and it’s used in very similar ways, particularly when you’re talking about something that isn’t true. For example:

If I were able to be there, I would be there.

Si pudiera estar ahí, estaría ahí.

Let’s practice this with a few examples.

I did it so that she could go.

Lo hice para que ella pudiera ir.

If he were able, he would do it.

Si pudiera, lo haría.

If I were able to be there, I wouldn’t do it.

Si yo pudiera estar ahí, no lo haría.

She said it so that I could be careful.

Lo she said para que yo pudiera tener cuidado.

Lo dijo para que yo pudiera tener cuidado.

Before we go on to today’s final quiz, here’s a bit of a puzzle. How would you translate this sentence?

I could do this.

The English word “could” can actually mean a lot of different things, so it really depends on the context. Very often, this is how we put “can” in the past. For example:

That day I couldn’t do it, but now I can.

Ese día no pude hacerlo, pero ahora sí puedo.

But sometimes when we say “could”, what we mean is “would be able”. That would be a conditional use. For example:

If she were here, I could do that.

Si ella estuviera aquí, yo podría hacer eso.

So for now, during our quizzing, we’re going to avoid using the word “could” in English, and instead we’ll use more wordy phrasings such as “was able” or “would be able”. Just be aware that very often, in real life, you’ll find lots of different ways to translate “could” from English into conjugations of Poder in Spanish.

All right, let’s go on to today’s final quiz.

She has been able to make it for him.

Se lo ha podido hacer.

You were able to do it when you were a child, but now you can’t.

Podías hacerlo cuando eras a child, pero ahora no puedes.

Podías hacerlo cuando eras un niño, pero ahora no puedes.

The lady will be able to give it(f) to my friend(f).

La señora se la podrá give a mi amiga.

La señora se la podrá dar a mi amiga.

They were able to do the work.

Podían hacer el trabajo.

She would be able to give you the one that (m) she has.

Ella te podría give el que tiene.

Ella te podría dar el que tiene.

He can go.

Él puede ir.

I can be careful.

Puedo tener cuidado.

We can do the job carefully.

Podemos hacer el trabajo con cuidado.

He didn’t manage to go that day.

No pudo ir ese día.

Is there a good reason for which they wouldn’t be able to be here?

¿Hay una buena razón por la que no podrían estar aquí?

Would you be able to be here that evening?

¿Podrías estar aquí esa noche?

I wouldn’t be able to go with you.

No podría ir contigo.

It might be that she can’t go.

Puede que ella no pueda ir.

What is the problem?

¿Cuál es el problema?

We are in agreement: we weren’t able to do it.

Estamos de acuerdo - no podíamos hacerlo.

I hope you can go so that I can go with you.

I hope que puedas ir para que yo pueda ir contigo.

Espero que puedas ir para que yo pueda ir contigo.

We aren’t going to be able to do what they can do.

No vamos a poder hacer lo que ellos pueden hacer.

I had an idea, but I wasn’t able to do it.

Tuve una idea, pero no pude hacerla.

If I were able to cook, we would be able to eat.

Si yo pudiera to cook, nosotros podríamos to eat.

Si yo pudiera cocinar, nosotros podríamos comer.

I hope they can arrive on time, because I won’t be able to.

Espero que puedan arrive a tiempo, porque yo no podré.

Espero que puedan llegar a tiempo, porque yo no podré.

I told my friend that she was the one that was able to do it.

Le I told a mi amiga que ella era la que podía hacerlo.

Le dije a mi amiga que ella era la que podía hacerlo.

They wanted him to be able to go, because I wasn’t able.

They wanted que él pudiera ir, porque yo no podía.

Querían que él pudiera ir, porque yo no podía.

For more practice with all of this, go to LCSPodcast.com/67.

Tomorrow we’re going to learn the words for “happy”, “lonely”, “sure”, and some other essential adjectives.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was performed by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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