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Verbs with different meanings in the preterit - Part II: Poder and Querer



Mouse-over Spanish text fragments in red to see English translation
Along with saber and conocer, the two verbs we studied in our previous episode, poder and querer are the other two verbs that can change meaning when they are used in the preterit. The verb poder means “to be able to” and “can” in the present, but in the preterite it also means “to manage, to succeed.” The verb querer means “to want, to love” in the present, but it also means “to try” in the preterit. These second meanings in the preterit are widely most common than their original meanings.

Furthermore, when poder and querer are used in the negative form, they have yet another meaning, namely, no pude means “I failed (to),” and no quise means “I refused (to).” Compare the examples below.

Poder in the Present:
puedo, puedes, puede, podemos, podéis, pueden

Tú puedes hacer lo que quieras y yo también.
You can do anything you want and so can I.

Juntos podemos.
Together we can.

¿Podéis terminarlo para mañana?
Will you guys be able to finish it by tomorrow?

Creo que no pueden venir esta noche.
I think they aren’t able to come over tonight.

¿Sabes qué puedes hacer?
Do you know what you can do?


Poder in the Preterite:
pude, pudiste, pudo, pudimos, pudisteis, pudieron

Affirmative:
Pudimos terminar el proyecto a tiempo.
We managed to finish the project on time.

¿Pudiste ahorrar suficiente dinero para el viaje?
Did you manage to save enough money for the trip?

Por fin pude entenderlo.
Finally, I managed to understand it.


Negative:
No pude cruzar la línea de meta.
I failed to cross the finish line.

No pudieron encontrar una solución.
They failed to find a solution.

No pudo perder más peso.
He failed to lose more weight.


Querer in the Present:
quiero, quieres, quiere, queremos, queréis, quieren

Quiero que me quieras.
I want you to love me.

¿Me quieres?
Do you love me?

¡Me quiere, no me quiere!
He loves me, he loves me not!

¿Qué queréis de postre?
What do you guys want for dessert?

Queremos saber por qué nos mentiste.
We want to know why you lied to us.


Querer in the Preterite:
quise, quisiste, quiso, quisimos, quisisteis, quisieron

Affirmative: Quiso impresionarme con sus amplios conocimientos, pero a mí no me interesan las enciclopedias.
He tried to impress me with his wide knowledge, but I am not interested in encyclopedias.

Quisieron comprar nuestro silencio, pero no estaba en venta.
They tried to buy our silence, but it was not for sale.

Quise ser escritor, pero el destino tenía otros planes.
I tried to become a writer, but destiny had other plans.


Negative:
No quise firmar el contrato.
I refused to sign the contract.

No quiso prestarme el dinero.
She refused to loan me the money.

¿Por qué no quisisteis escuchar mi nueva canción?
Why did you guys refused to listen to my new song?


Note: Please, keep in mind that poder/no poder and querer/no querer can be used in a wide variety of different contexts in the preterite, other than the ones provided in this lesson, and for each one a different verb or expression will be required for an accurate translation in English.