Wanting to do something.

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¡Hola todo! I need a little help with translating "...wanting to do something..."

The family wanted to go to the zoo.
La familia quería ir al zoológico. ¿está correcta?

Is it the same if only I want to go to the movie?
Yo quería ir al cine.
Thanks, Vance.

4171 views
updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by Vance-Moore2

16 Answers

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The issue has to do with the wanting to go, and that this state of wanting ended. How and why it ended may be found in the context. Some times the need got fulfilled, other times (probably in most cases, but that doesn't matter) something made it impossible. The same thing happens with a verb like poder.

I think it's important to understand the uses of the Spanish tenses on their own terms, and avoid trying to find an English equivalent in every single case. At least to break out of "beginner's Spanish" smile

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by Vikingo
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Natasha said:

So, Lazarus, if someone said "Quise ir al cine," would you assume that he WENT or that he DIDN'T? Or is this even the right question to be asking?


Isn't the issue more to do with the wanting rather than the going

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by harry
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So, Lazarus, if someone said "Quise ir al cine," would you assume that he WENT or that he DIDN'T? Or is this even the right question to be asking'

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by Natasha
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Natasha said:

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For instance, querer ("to want") changes its meaning on the trip from preterit to imperfect. Consider the case of quisieron (preterit) and querían (imperfect). Both mean "they wanted," but a native Spanish speaker hears a difference. The former suggests that they wanted to do something (and they did it). Thus their "wanting" came to an end, at least for a while, so the verb goes into the preterit as a done deal. Querían, the imperfect, suggests they wanted to do something and, evidently, they still want to. That is, they wanted but were unable to do something. Thus, Quisieron ir al cine and Querían ir al cine both mean "They wanted to go to the movies," but with a difference. The preterit conveys the idea that they wanted to go [sic] the movies, so they went. The imperfect suggests that they wanted to go the movies but didn't -- maybe after seeing the ticket prices.

The imperfect can also be used to say that they wanted to do something and perhaps eventually did do it, but not before something else intervened making that possible. For example, Querían ir al cine, y los mandé . . .

Nice explanation of the uses of the preterite and imperfect! Hold on! Verb meaning change? What meaning change are they talking about? English does not express perfectiveness through morphological tenses, and that's why sometimes more than one verb is needed. In Spanish this is achieved through tenses, and there is no special change of meaning that could not have been achieved in any other tense. Don't forget that "quiso" can also mean "wanted (to)": "Todo lo que quiso saber sobre... = All you wanted to know...".

Why do authors insist that the fact that a verb appears to change its meaning (for an English speaker after translation, this is), it is the verb's fault, and not the fact that Spanish past tenses have no counterpart in English? It has to do with the preterite and the imperfect, and not with the verb itself.

"Want" in English is etymologically related to "lacking something"; its modern meaning of "desire" is relatively recent (3 centuries). "Querer" etymologically means "to seek, to try to obtain" (think of the related cognates "acquire", "require" and "conquer"), and by extension, "to desire". That's why "querer" can be translated as "try" and "intend (to)" as well as "want". All its different meanings can be achieved in any tense, but remember that "want" is not exactly the same verb all the time.

updated ENE 14, 2009
posted by lazarus1907
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Another good way to translate preterit querer is "meant to."

Quisieron pagar, pero no tuvieron dinero.
They meant to pay, but didn't have any money.

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
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James Santiago said:

Hmmm. I really like that book, but that quote is contrary to what I have learned. Although this is an over-simplification, I have learned that in the preterit, querer in the affirmative means "to try" and in the negative "to refuse."

Quise nadar una milla. (I tried to swim a mile.)

Sandra no quiso salir con Diego. (Sandra refused to go out with Diego.)

Again, there are many exceptions to the above rule, but that is what I have learned.
I agree with James. In translating "quiso ir al zoológico", I would be inclined to ignore the tense used in Spanish and say "he had hoped to go to the zoo" (which in English makes it quite clear that he didn't).

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by samdie
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Hmmm. I really like that book, but that quote is contrary to what I have learned. Although this is an over-simplification, I have learned that in the preterit, querer in the affirmative means "to try" and in the negative "to refuse."

Quise nadar una milla. (I tried to swim a mile.)
Sandra no quiso salir con Diego. (Sandra refused to go out with Diego.)

Again, there are many exceptions to the above rule, but that is what I have learned.

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
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At the risk of starting another brouhaha about whether changing tenses changes meaning, I am going to quote from Breaking out of Beginner's Spanish by Joseph Keenan (p. 54).

===========================================================================

For instance, querer ("to want") changes its meaning on the trip from preterit to imperfect. Consider the case of quisieron (preterit) and querían (imperfect). Both mean "they wanted," but a native Spanish speaker hears a difference. The former suggests that they wanted to do something (and they did it). Thus their "wanting" came to an end, at least for a while, so the verb goes into the preterit as a done deal. Querían, the imperfect, suggests they wanted to do something and, evidently, they still want to. That is, they wanted but were unable to do something. Thus, Quisieron ir al cine and Querían ir al cine both mean "They wanted to go to the movies," but with a difference. The preterit conveys the idea that they wanted to go [sic] the movies, so they went. The imperfect suggests that they wanted to go the movies but didn't -- maybe after seeing the ticket prices.

The imperfect can also be used to say that they wanted to do something and perhaps eventually did do it, but not before something else intervened making that possible. For example, Querían ir al cine, y los mandé . . .

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by Natasha
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Ok, my examples are wrong but he hasn´t said they eventually went to the zoo, has he'

No, but that's why we don't want to specify it either way. Using "quería" leaves open the question as to whether or not they actually went, and is therefore exactly the same as "wanted." We don't know if they went, but we do know that it was their desire to go.

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
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Mind you in hindsight the post was wanting and not wanted.

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by Eddy
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James Santiago said:

*Wouldn´t it depend on context['] 1) two minutes ago, the family "quería" to go to the zoo.

2) two months ago, the family "quiso" to go to the zoo.*

No, it wouldn't. The amount of time that has elapsed is not relevant. Querer has different meanings in the imperfect and preterit. In the preterit, it often means that the subject wanted to do something, but failed, so in this sentence it would imply that the family was unable to make it to the zoo. There are other differences, but I'll let Lazarus get into those.

Ok, my examples are wrong but he hasn´t said they eventually went to the zoo, has he'

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by Eddy
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Wouldn´t it depend on context[']
1) two minutes ago, the family "quería" to go to the zoo.
2) two months ago, the family "quiso" to go to the zoo.

No, it wouldn't. The amount of time that has elapsed is not relevant. Querer has different meanings in the imperfect and preterit (from an English standpoint). In the preterit, it often means that the subject wanted to do something, but failed, so in this sentence it would imply that the family was unable to make it to the zoo. There are other differences, but I'll let Lazarus get into those.

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
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James Santiago said:

Eddy said:

Looks good to me but your translation appears to say "was wanting", How about La familia quiso ir al zoo o zoológico.

The difference is not that of "wanted" versus "was wanting." It is more complicated than that. I won't go into all the details, but for general purposes, if you just want to say that somebody wanted to do something, you use quería.

Wouldn´t it depend on context
1) two minutes ago, the family "quería" to go to the zoo.

2) two months ago, the family "quiso" to go to the zoo.

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by Eddy
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Eddy said:

Looks good to me but your translation appears to say "was wanting", How about La familia quiso ir al zoo o zoológico.

The difference is not that of "wanted" versus "was wanting." It is more complicated than that. I won't go into all the details, but for general purposes, if you just want to say that somebody wanted to do something, you use quería.

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by 00bacfba
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La familia quería ir al zoológico. ¿está correcta'

Sí.

Is it the same if only I want to go to the movie?
Yo quería ir al cine.

Sí, sería perfecto menos el pronombre "yo," el cual no es necesario en la mayoría de los casos.

updated ENE 13, 2009
posted by 00bacfba