“Could” is one of the most common and versatile modal verbs in English. This word can be used to ask for something nicely, to express ability in past tense, and also to discuss probability.
“Poder” is the Spanish verb we use to translate “could”, and its conjugation will depend on the tense and the communicative function, which means “could” might appear in five different tenses: simple present, simple past, past progressive, conditional, and past subjunctive. Let’s see how to use it correctly in all of them.
Note: While in English, to express ability or possibility we have the options of "can / could" and "to be able to", in Spanish the verb "poder" is generally used for both of these expressions.
“Poder” is used in the conditional to:
Ask formal questions and give advice in a polite way. For example:
Present simple tense of “poder” can also have the same communicative intention:
Express probability in future and past tense:
In the future:
In the past: ("poder" in conditional simple + "haber" + participle)
Speak about hypothetical situations:
This conjugation is used to:
Talk about an action in the past that took place after an attempt.
Express an action that happened at a specific moment - a one-time-action.
“Poder” in the imperfect past expresses:
Ability in the past:
Past continuous actions or habits::
Granted and denied permissions in the past:
This conjugation is used when an expression requires the subjunctive, but is in the past:
“Pudiera” is also used in second conditional sentences in the if-clause.
It’s also used to make less categorical statements, to soften them.
With the purpose of softening an expression, conditional "podría" can also be used.
If we answer a question with "maybe" or “could be” to express possibility, depending on the certainty level, we can use poder in the present indicative (highest certainty), conditional, or past subjunctive (lowest certainty).
Now that you've learned about how to express "could" in Spanish, why not practice by checking out our exercises?