5 Spanish verbs that change meaning in the past tense

5 Spanish verbs that change meaning in the past tense

Did you know that there are 5 Spanish verbs that change meaning when you use them in the preterite and imperfect past tenses?

If you’ve been studying Spanish for a bit, you know there are always exceptions to the rules. So just when you thought you had those past tense verb meanings memorized… these 5 verbs change meaning depending on if you’re using them in the preterite or imperfect past verb tenses. Thanks Spanish – you just like to keep us on our toes! ūüĎć

The good news is that learning these subtle differences and using them successfully in your Spanish conversations will uplevel your Spanish!

Here are the 5 verbs that change meaning between the imperfect and preterite verb tenses.

  1. Conocer = to know
  2. Saber = to know
  3. Poder = to be able to
  4. Querer = to want to
  5. Tener = to have

¬ŅCu√°l es la diferencia? Can you tell a difference?

ImperfectoPretérito
Yo conocía a 5 personas en la reunión, pero no conocía a las otras personas.Yo conocí a 2 personas ayer en la reunión.
Ella podía caminar pero tenía prisa así que se fue en Uber.Ella no pudo encontrar un Uber y por eso no llegó a tiempo.
Nosotros no sabíamos el diagnóstico hace una semana.Nosotros supimos el diagnóstico hace 3 días.

Can you identify the differences in these sentences?

Watch this Quick Tip lesson to learn how to use these 5 verbs!

Notice how the meanings of these 5 verbs change in the preterite and imperfect verb tenses

VERBMeaning in the ImperfectoMeaning in the Pretérito
ConocerUsed to know, or knew a person or a placeMet for the first time
SaberUsed to know information, factsDiscovered, found out for the first time
PoderCould do somethingCould do and did it successfully. Managed to do something.

NO poder = Failed to do something
QuererWanted to do somethingWanted to do AND did it

NO Querer = Refused something
TenerUsed to have, hadReceived something

Watch the lesson to learn the details, see examples of these verbs, and take the quiz to test your understanding.

¬°Ojo! Pay attention…

  • If you’re wondering what the “Pret√©rito and Imperfecto” are – watch the video below to get a quick review of these two verb tenses that describe events that take place in the past.
  • Did you notice that both saber and conocer mean “to know” I go in depth about these two verbs and when to use each one in this SABER vs. CONOCER lesson

¡Te toca a ti! Let’s practice…

Grab a piece of paper and quiz yourself.

Ejercicio #1:

Which verb conjugation do you use for these contexts below…

  1. They received (they got) good grades
  2. They wanted to go skiing, but not sure if they did?
  3. We wanted to go ziplining and we did!
  4. She knew all about Costa Rica.
  5. She just found out about that waterfall today!

Want more practice? Download the lesson notes and take the Quiz at the end of the lesson.

Answers to Ejercicio #1:

  1. Ellos tuvieron (recibieron)
  2. Ellos querían
  3. Nosotros quisimos
  4. Ella sabía
  5. Ella supo

Give it a try – write an example sentence using 1 of these 5 verbs in the comments below!

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