Posted by: janecronin | February 11, 2018


The translation of “poder” in its infinitive form is “to be able”.  However, English is such a strange language that once we start using the verb in sentences “to be able” almost always turns into “can”.  Therefore the first person singular “puedo” means “I am able to” or simply “I can”.  Similarly the past tenses “pude” and “podia” are “I was able to” or “I could”.  Even more peculiarly in English “I could” is also “I would be able”, which in Spanish is the conditional “podría”.

Well, having seen how strange English is in this respect, hopefully the verb “poder” will now seem remarkably normal.  It is in fact a root changing verb in the present tense, so “I can” “you can” “he or she can” and “they can” are “puedo”, “puedes”, “puede” and “pueden” respectively.  The “we” and “you – plural” forms keep the “o” of the root – “podemos” (we can) and “podéis” (you can, plural).  “Poder” is irregular in the preterite tense (pude etc.) as well in the future and conditional tenses (podré, podría).

As in English, we use this verb to talk about ability, but it can also be used in the question form to ask for permission.  For example: “¿Puedo cambiar el canal?” (Can I change the channel?)  There is also a less personal form “¿Se puede?” (Can one?  Is it permitted?)”¿Se puede aparcar aquí?” (Can one park here?)  On occasions we can use these two words on their own.  For example, you are at the doctor’s and you think you can go into the surgery room but you’re not sure, you might knock, open the door slightly and say “¿Se puede?”

There are a couple of nouns related to “poder”.  The word for “power” is exactly the same as the verb “poder”.  “Tiene mucho poder” (He or she has a lot of power).  This word is also used in a legal context meaning “power of attorney” or “proxy”.  You may have been asked to sign one of these by a lawyer at some point.  The other noun is “poderío” and refers more to the quality of power, that is, “powerfulness”.  The adjective meaning “powerful” is “poderoso” and one of the names given to God is “el Todopoderoso” (the All-powerful).

Returning to the present tense of this verb, there is a new political party in Spain called “Podemos” which means “We can”, pronounced “PodEmos” (emphasis on the “e”).   I was reading something the other day about how some people who don´t like this particular political party are now having problems using the word “podemos” in everyday conversation.  There was an example of a sign someone had written in a church, about keeping the place clean and tidy.   At the end it said “Juntos podemos” (together we can) and someone, (who knows, it could have been the priest) had crossed out “podemos” and changed it to “Juntos lo lograremos” (together we will achieve it).  It made me laugh.

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