Verbs that Change Meaning in the Preterite

Beginner Spanish Grammar Lesson

Verbos que cambian de significado en el pretérito.

Child reluctant to eat vegetables

El niño no quiso comer vegetales.

Certain Spanish verbs like 'conocer', 'querer' and 'sentir' have one meaning in the present, but change their meaning when used in the preterite (past tense).

This is because the preterite tense, implies that an action has occurred. The action in these verbs has more of an emotional or mental connotation, than an actual physical connotation.

In this lesson you will see a list of verbs with their meanings both in the present and in the preterite.

Compare the meanings and check the differences. The examples will help you get the meaning they have in each case. After studying them, practice these with the exercises below and visit our language resources area to find further interesting lessons and exercises to help you to learn Spanish.

CONOCER To know (a person/place).
Yo conozco mi ciudad muy bien.
I know my city very well.
To meet.
Conocí a Lupe hace dos años.
I met Lupe two years ago.
PODER To be able (to do something).
Yo puedo hablar cinco idiomas.
I can speak five languages.
To manage(to do something).
Ella pudo hablar.
She managed to speak.
NO PODER Not to be able (to do something).
Yo no puedo nadar muy bien.
I cannot swim very well.
To fail(to do something).
Carlos no pudo comprar los boletos.
Carlos failed to buy the tickets
QUERER To want.
Yo quiero comprar unas nuevas zapatillas.
I want to buy new trainers.
To try.
Quise viajar a México.
I tried to travel to Mexico.
NO QUERER Not to want.
No quiero ir al cine hoy.
I don't want to to go the movies today.
To refuse.
El niño no quiso comer los vegetales.
The boy refused to eat the vegetables.
SABER To know (information/facts).
José sabe mucho de historia y geografía.
José knows a lot about history and geography.
To find out.
Supe que murió Michael Jackson.
I found out Michael Jackson has died.
SENTIR To feel.
Me siento mal, me duele la cabeza.
I feel bad; I have a headache.
To regret, to be sorry.
Sentí olvidar la tarea.
I was sorry I forgot the homework

Interactive Exercises

Exercise 1. Match the English sentences with the Spanish sentences.

Ejercicio 1. Une las oraciones en inglés con las oraciones en español.

1. We failed to win the tournament.


2. Despite the weather, she managed to arrive on time.


3. We tried to go to the beach, but it rained all day.


4. I found out Laura is pregnant.


5. She was sorry for arguing.


6. I met my husband at university.


Exercise 2: Write the correct verb in the preterite, from the following options:

Ejercicio 2: Escribe el verbo correcto en pretérito, de las siguientes opciones:


Note: Try to use the correct written accents if you can e.g.: á, é, í, ó, ú, ñ, ü.

If you don't know the correct answer, type '?' to reveal it.

1. Yo  quiz answera mi mejor amigo hace seis años.

2. El bebé está enfermo y no  quiz answercomer nada.

3. No  quiz answerestudiar porque perdí mi libro de Química.

4. Carolina  quiz answerpagar sus deudas porque ya tiene trabajo.

5.  quiz answermucho no poder asistir al funeral de mi tía.

6.  quiz answeraprender tango, pero no conseguí un profesor.

7. Mi esposo y yo  quiz answerllegar a tiempo para la función, a pesar del tráfico.

8. ¿Donde  quiz answera Laura?

9. La  quiz answeren el taller de arte.

10. Insistimos, pero ella no  quiz answeracompañarnos a la fiesta porque estaba cansada.



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