Expressions with "Poder"

Quick Answer

Poderis one of the most essential Spanish verbs. It is a common auxiliary verb that typically translates as can or to be able to, but can also take on a different meaning in certain expressions.

Conjugating Poder

Poder is an irregular verb in most forms and tenses. To review how to conjugate poder, click here.

Expressing the Ability to Perform an Action

Poder is used to express whether someone is able or not able to perform an action. This is straightforward in the present tense, but it can get a little tricky in the past tense because the verb can have a slightly different meaning.

  • Poder conjugated in the preterite translates as managed or could, and is used to express that you were able to do something at a specific point in the past.
  • Poder conjugated in the imperfect translates as was/were able to, and is used to express that you were able to do something over a period of time.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of poder in the present, preterite, and imperfect.

No puedo ver nada. Enciende la luz.
I can’t see a thing. Turn on the light.
Los estudiantes pudieron terminar su tarea.
The students managed to finish their homework.
No podía respirar porque había demasiado humo.
I couldn’t breathe because there was too much smoke.

Talking about your Skills and Abilities

One of the most common uses of poder is talking about your skills/abilities. To do this, conjugate poder and add an infinitive.

When talking about someone’s skills/abilities in the past, the imperfect is used.

Check out these examples.

Puedo correr mucho más rápido que tú.
I can run much faster than you.
Cuando era niño, podía hacer una voltereta hacia atrás.
When I was a child, I could do a backflip.

Making Polite Requests

To ask someone politely to do something in Spanish, use poder in the conditional followed by an infinitive.

Por favor, ¿podrías lavar los platos?
Could you please wash the dishes?
Por favor, ¿me podría decir dónde está la oficina de correos?
Could you please tell me where the post office is?

Asking Permission

Poder can be used in the present tense yoform followed by an infinitive to ask Can I?, May I?, or Might I?

¿Puedo tomar un poco de agua?
Can I get a drink of water?
¿Puedo pasar? Hace frío.
May I come in? It's cold.
¿Puedo hacerle una pregunta?
Might I ask you a question?

Expressing Possibility

To indicate possibility, the verb poder can be used in a variety of tenses to express could, may, or might.

  • Use podríafollowed by an infinitive to express could or might.
  • Use the phrase puede quefollowed by the present subjunctive to express may.

Take a look at these examples.

¿Dónde está mi celular? - Podría estar en el carro.
Where is my cellphone? - It could be in the car.
Puede que tenga que ir al dentista.
He may have to go to the dentist.

Making Suggestions

Poder conjugated in the conditional tense followed by an infinitive is a common way to make a suggestion in Spanish.

Me gusta esta ensalada, pero podría ser mucho mejor si agregaras cebolla roja.
I like this salad, but it could be even better if you added red onion.
Si llueve hoy, podríamos ir al centro comercial.
If it rains today, we could go to the mall.

Poder and the Impersonal Se

Poder can be used in impersonal se constructions to make general observations about what people can or can't do.

Impersonal Se Formula

se + verb in third person singular

Let's put this into practice!

¿Se puede nadar en el cenote?
Can you swim in the cenote?
Desde la calle se puede ver la catarata.
You can see the waterfall from the street.

Additional Expressions

The verb poder is used in a variety of useful expressions.

Expression in SpanishMeaning in English
a más no poder
to the max
no poder por menos de
can’t help but
no poder ver ni en pintura
to not to be able to stand the sight of
¡No puede ser!
I don’t believe it!
ojalá pudiera
I wish I could
poder pagar
to afford
puede ser
maybe/it's possible
querer es poder
where there's a will there's a way
se puede decir
it can be said