Impersonal verbs: Imperfect past tense

impersonal verbs imprefect past spanish

“Querer”, “poder”, and “saber” are three useful verbs in Spanish. We can use them to give advice, make suggestions, express our desires, and even talk about our dreams.

We can conjugate them in different tenses but one of the most used by Spanish speakers is the imperfect past tense. Also, they are essential for every Spanish learner because we can use them together with other verbs.

Learning how to use “querer”, “poder”, and “saber” in imperfect past tense will help you talk about unfinished past events. As a result, adding uncertainty to what you say won’t be a struggle.

In this explanation, you will learn how to use “querer”, “poder”, and “saber” using imperfect past tense and how you should conjugate them.

Verb “querer” in the imperfect past

The imperfect past tense is similar to the simple present tense. We say that they are similar because we use the simple present tense to talk about unfinished events in the present time.

Imperfect past tense is basically the same but, of course, in the past. In most cases, we use “querer” together with other verbs.

For that reason, the structure (“querer” + verb) is one of the most common among Spanish speakers.

If you use “querer” followed by another verb, you must conjugate the second verb in the infinitive form. On the other side, if you use “querer” with a noun, you’ll only need to conjugate “querer” and remember to add an article before the noun.

You could use definite articles like “la”, “las”, “el”, and “los”. Or, you can use indefinite articles like “un”, “unos”, “una”, and “unas”.

Conjugating “querer” using imperfect past tense isn’t a nightmare. The only thing we need to do is to remove the -er ending, and add -ría, -rías,-rían, or -ríamos depending on the personal pronoun you use.

If you want to use “vosotros” to give your sentences a “Spaniard” touch, you’ll have to add -ríais.

Let’s see “querer” conjugations below:

Verb conjugation
“Querer” “To want”
Yo quería I wanted
Tu querías you wanted
El/ Ella/ Usted quería He/She/It/You (formal) wanted
Nosotros queríamos We wanted
Ustedes querían You (plural) wanted
Ellos/Ellas querían They wanted

Since using “querer” in imperfect past tense will add uncertainty to your speeches, listeners will know that you wanted something, but won’t know if you did it or got it.

Let’s see a few examples to get a better idea:

Quería comer hamburguesas.

I wanted to eat burgers.

Queríamos correr una maratón.

We wanted to run a marathon.

Angela quería manzanas para el desayuno.

Angela wanted apples for breakfast.

Queríamos cambiar la perspectiva.

We wanted to change the perspective.

In all of the examples above, we talk about things we wanted to do or get but since we conjugated “querer” using the imperfect past tense, the listener won’t know if we did them, got them, or not.

On the other hand, if you use the indefinite past tense, everything changes and it will be a fact that you accomplished your goal.

Verb “poder” in imperfect past

“Poder” is the Spanish word for “to be able to ” or “can”. Using it in the imperfect past tense is quite similar to “querer”. “Poder” is an irregular verb and, consequently, we change its root in most Spanish tenses.

Yet, conjugating “poder” using imperfect past tense is easier because the verb’s root will be the same and we will add a different ending.

Let’s see “poder” conjugations below:

Verb conjugation
“Poder” “To be able to” / “Can”
Yo podía I could
Tú podías You could
Él/Ella/Usted podía He/She/It/You (formal) could
Nosotros podíamos We could
Ustedes podían You (plural) could
Ellos/Ellas podían They could

Just like with “querer”, we can use “poder” together with verbs, but we can’t use it with nouns. The verb that follows “poder” will also be in the infinitive form.

Let’s see some examples:

No podía mirar sus ojos.

He could not look at her eyes.

Estabamos tan cansados que no podíamos dormir.

We were so tired that we couldn’t sleep.

Ellos podían comprar un carro.

They could buy a car.

Tú podías hablar con tu jefe.

You could talk to your boss.

As we mentioned before, we use the imperfect past tense to talk about unfinished events. In this scenario, listeners won’t know if we actually were able to do something or if we even try.

They will need to get that information from the context and other things we might have said.

Verb “saber” in imperfect past

“Saber” is a Spanish verb very different from “querer” and “poder”.

“Saber” is the Spanish version of “to know” or “to find out”. “Saber” is an irregular verb, therefore, we must change its root when conjugating it in the imperfect past tense.

Below, we listed how to conjugate saber using the imperfect past tense:

Verb conjugation
“Saber” “To know”
Yo sabía I knew
Tú sabías You knew
Él/Ella/Usted sabía He/She/It/You (formal) knew
Nosotros sabíamos We knew
Ustedes sabían You (plural) knew
Ellos/Ellas sabían They knew

Frequently, we use saber with Spanish connection words like “que”. We use “saber” in the imperfect past tense to express that we “already knew” something.

On the other hand, if you conjugate saber using the imperfect past tense, you’ll express that you didn’t know something but then you found out.

Here are some examples:

¿Ves? ¡Lo sabía!. Carla y Alberto están juntos.

See? I knew it!. Carla and Alberto are together.

Ellos sabían que si no lo intentaban, no lo iban a lograr.

They knew that if they didn’t try, they wouldn’t make it.

No sabíamos que no podíamos hablar dentro de la habitación.

We didn’t know we couldn’t talk inside the room.

Rafael no sabía que solo podía comprar las entradas al concierto por internet.

Rafael didn’t know he could only buy tickets to the concert online.

Please note, that some of the examples above are negative sentences and, to build them, you only need to add “no” before “saber”.

Another thing you should know is that one common Spanish expression “Lo sabía” it’s equivalent to “I knew it”. So, you might hear it pretty often.

Imperfect past tense in Spanish

In conclusion, the imperfect past tense helps us to talk about unfinished past events.

When conjugating “querer”, “saber”, and “poder”, using the imperfect past tense, we just need to remove the -er ending and add the new ending. After all, their roots will be the same.

Keep in mind that we can use “querer” with verbs in the infinitive form or nouns, but “poder” only with verbs.

Also, remember that we generally use saber together with connections words like “que” and it helps us express that we “already knew” something.

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