The use of the verb “poder” in Spanish

‘Poder’ in Spanish means “to be able to” or “can”. It is the sixth most important verb in Spanish therefore very useful and one of the first verbs you should learn as a beginner. It is mostly used to express capability, ability and probability.

In this post we will look at the most common uses of ‘poder’:

The conjugation of ‘poder’ in the present tense is:

(Yo) Puedo – I can
(Tú) Puedes – You can (1 person)
(Él/Ella) Puede – He/She can
(Nosotros) Podemos – We can
(Vosotros) Podéis – You all can
(Ellos) Pueden – They can

Note, it is a stem-changing verb so the “o” in the stem of the infinitive “poder” changes to “ue” in all forms except the nosotros (we) and vosotros (you-plural) forms.

You can then follow it with any infinitive to form a sentence:

Yo puedo hablar español.
I can speak Spanish.

¿Puedes venir a la fiesta?
Can you come to the party?

María no puede trabajar hoy.
María cannot work today.

¿Podemos reservar los billetes ahora?
Can we book the tickets now?

¿Podéis salir el jueves?
Can you all go out on Thursday?

No pueden encontrar la llave.
They cannot find the key.

Poder in the preterite (past tense)

‘Poder’ is an irregular verb in the past tense. Here is the preterite tense conjugation:

(Yo) Pude – I could/was able
(Tú) Pudiste – You could/was able
(Él/Ella) pudo – He/She could/was able
(Nosotros) pudimos – We could/were able
(Vosotros) pudisteis – You all could/were able
(Ellos) pudieron – They could/were able

Example sentences using poder in the past include:

Yo no pude llegar a tiempo.
I couldn’t leave on time.

¿Pudiste hacerlo?
Were you able to do it?

Pudimos aprender mucho.
We were able to learn a lot.

No pudieron entender al camarero.
They could not understand the waiter.

‘Poder’ as a noun

‘Poder’ is also a masculine noun meaning “power”:

El poder de la mente es increíble.
The power of the mind is incredible.

It can also be used in the sense of someone’s ability to do something:

Sus poderes de persuasión son fantásticas.
His powers of persuasion are fantastic.

However, the most common use of ‘poder’ is “to be able to” or “can”.

Using ‘Poder’ to make guesses

‘Poder’ is combined with “ser” (to be) to make conjectures about the future.

Often the conditional tense is used:

Podría ser profesor algún día.
I could be a teacher one day.

Politeness

It is also a polite way to ask to do something:

¿Podría reservar una mesa para viernes?
Could I book a table for Friday?

By using the conditional tense it just sounds a bit more polite than “puede”.

You can use “puede ser” to say “maybe” or “perhaps”.

¿Crees que van a llegar a tiempo?
Do you think they are going to arrive on time?
>> Puede ser.Maybe.

I cannot take any more

It is also used to say you cannot tolerate something any more.

¡No puedo más!I cannot take it any more.

I remember eating with a Spanish family, and when someone was full and could not eat any more, they said, “¡No puedo más!”

As you can see, “poder” is a really useful verb to know in Spanish. Try making up your own sentences to see how many different things you can say in Spanish.