How to Conjugate the Verb Poder in Spanish (8 Need-to-Know Tenses)

Poder in Spanish is a funny one to translate. We don’t have a one-word-verb like that in English, but I used to translate it in my head as “to can”. 

Regardless of the translation, it’s one of the most useful verbs in Spanish. You can use it to ask and give permission, describe your abilities, and more. 

Let’s take a look at how to conjugate poder:

Conjugation of poder (can/to be able to)

Spanish conjugations can seem intimidating. If you feel overwhelmed by the table below, I recommend the following: today, learn the first & second person present only (I can, you can). 

Tomorrow, come back and learn the first & second person in one of the past tenses. 

Then move on! You will come across this verb a LOT during your Spanish studies. As you go, you will get better at identifying patterns in Spanish.

Before long, you’ll have seen the verb poder a million times in action. With that context, you can come back to this article again and review it, and things that were confusing will then click. 

[Related: Is it hard to learn Spanish? 3 Key Factors to Know]

PresentSimple Past (“Preterite”)Future
Yo puedoYo pudeYo podré
Tú puedesTú pudisteTú podrás
Él/Ella/Usted puedeÉl/Ella/Usted pudoÉl/Ella/Usted podrá
Nosotros podemosNosotros pudimosNosotros podremos
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes puedenEllos/Ellas/Ustedes pudieronEllos/Ellas/Ustedes podrán
Vosotros* podéisVosotros* pudisteis Vosotros* podréis
ImperfectPresent PerfectConditional
Yo podíaYo he podidoYo podría
Tú podíasTú has podidoTú podrías
Él/Ella/Usted podíaÉl/Ella/Usted ha podidoÉl/Ella/Usted podría
Nosotros podíamosNosotros hemos podidoNosotros podríamos
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes podíanEllos/Ellas/Ustedes han podidoEllos/Ellas/Ustedes podrían
Vosotros* podíaisVosotros* habéis podido Vosotros* podríais
SubjunctiveImperfect Subjunctive
Yo puedaYo pudiera
Tú puedasTú pudieras
Él/Ella/Usted puedaÉl/Ella/Usted pudiera
Nosotros podamosNosotros hemos pudiéramos
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes puedanEllos/Ellas/Ustedes pudieran
Vosotros* podáisVosotros* pudierais
*Note that vosotros is only used in Spain
Gerund/present participle: pudiendo (“estoy pudiendo”/ “I’m being able to”) — not especially common with this verb.

How to ask for permission using the verb poder

To ask permission, here are two useful expressions:

  •  Se puede?
  • Puedo? 
  • Both of these translate roughly to “may I?”. They are polite to say before walking into someone’s room, taking a menu from behind the bar counter, or picking up a handmade sweater at a market. 

You can also use se puede + infinite verb to ask if it’s okay/allowed to do something. 

¿Se puede fumar aquí?Can you smoke here?
¿Se puede usar las computadoras en la biblioteca? Can you use the computers in the library?

How to use the verb poder to create sentences

The simplest complete sentence you can form with poder is with the conjugated verb (poder) + an infinitive verb. 

(Yo) puedo nadarI can swim
(Tú) puedes correrYou can run
(Ella) puede conducir She can drive
(Nosotros) podemos irWe can go
(Ustedes) pueden leerYou all can read
(Vosotros) podéis cantarYou all (Spain) can sing

To use poder in the past, the most common usage is likely to be the imperfect. This is used when you have an indefinite time period, or you’re not talking about something that’s necessarily over and done with.

Cuando era chico, podía comer de todoWhen I was young, I could eat anything
Podíamos haber ido al conciertoWe could have gone to the concert

How to make polite requests using Poder

Regardless of your level, it’s useful to be able to ask for favors politely. Just like in English, Spanish speakers use the could/would form (“could you….?”). 

To use this form in Spanish, you’ll chop off the -er and replace it with “-rías” (tú) or “-ría” (usted)

¿Podrías prestarme tu coche hoy? Could you lend me your car today?
Amor, ¿podrías limpiar el baño por favor?Honey, could you clean the bathroom please?

Common Spanish expressions with poder

Puede serPerhaps, maybe
¡No puede ser!No way!
Puede que…
[ex: puede que no haya nada que comer en casa]
Might be/maybe/perhaps
[There might not be anything to eat at home]
No puedo más
[ex: -¿Quieres más pizza? – No, no puedo más]
I can’t (handle it) anymore
[- Want more pizza? – No, I can’t (eat) anymore

When NOT to use poder

  1. “Puedo tener?”
    Don’t say this in restaurants! Puedo tener is what happens when we translate directly from English into Spanish. In English, we say “Can I have XYZ?” as a polite request or restaurant order.

    In Spanish, this doesn’t work. Instead, you ask people to “bring me” or “give me” something:
    -> Nos trae otra ronda? / Can we have another round?
    -> Me da un sandwich de jamón y queso, por favor? / Can I have a ham and cheese sandwich, please?
  2. Expressions like “I can’t see you”, “I can’t hear you”, or “I can’t understand”. In Spanish, these are said without “can”.

    Instead, you’ll just say: No te veo, no te escucho/oigo, or no te entiendo. 

Your Turn!

Put poder into practice. Write a sentence in the comments describing something you can/are able to do.

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Hey there, I'm Connor. I help motivated learners speak Spanish without slogging through grammar books or tapping through every new app. I started Breakthrough Spanish to give more people the confidence and focus to learn effectively Spanish from home. Learn more about me here.

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