Querer, Deber & Poder
This lesson deals with the Spanish equivalents of the above three auxiliary verbs. They are: querer, deber and poder. The construction in Spanish is identical to the English in two ways, and different in one. In both English and Spanish, the complementary infinitive is placed after the helping verb and only the helping verb is conjugated. What is different about English and Spanish in this construction is really what distinguishes their verb systems generally – the fact that the helping verb can be conjugated in all three persons, singular and plural.
Of the three helping verbs in this article, deber is a regular –er verb. It means and is used in Spanish when English would use should or to ought to, followed by an infinitive. It isn’t always a helping verb. Used alone, it means to owe.
Querer means to want, whether as a helping verb or not. In a romantic situation, used without a complementary infinitive, it means to love! It is irregular. The e of the verb stem (the main body of the verb, before the –er ending), changes to the diphthong (two vowels pronounced as one syllable) ie, except in the nosotros and vosotros forms. When pronounced, the stress falls on this diphthong. When the conjugated forms of querer are arranged in a two-column grid, with the singular forms on the left and the plural forms on the right, and the first-, second- and third-person forms are in descending order, the resulting pattern is said to resemble a shoe or boot, as do the patterns of many, many verbs in the present tense. They are nicknamed shoe verbs. The endings are not affected by the irregularity of the stem. Hence, the present tense of querer is:
quiero queremos quieres queréis quiere quieren
Poder means to be able and is used in Spanish when in English we use to be able to + an infinitive or can + infinitive. Like querer, it is irregular and like querer, is a shoe verb. The o of the stem changes to the diphthong ue which is the stressed syllable. Remember that with shoe verbs, nosotros and vosotros are always “outside" the shoe and hence the o is not changed to a diphthong:
puedo podemos puedes podéis puede puede
Let’s translate our three English examples into Spanish:
Él quiere ir a la playa.Ellos deben comprar un carro nuevo.Puedo nadar bien.
Notice that the bolded words contain only the helping verbs and their complementary infinitives and that the helping verb is is the only verb conjugated in this construction. The complementary infinitive is just what its name says it is. They each complete the idea of the helping verb that introduced them and they remain infinitives, that is, unconjugated.
Notice how these three helping verbs deal with three very common and important human emotions or senses of duty: the will (
- The written lesson is below.
- Links to quizzes, tests, etc. are to the left.
Commands are used when ordering, or telling someone to do something. This is often referred to as the “imperative” form of the verb.
- Compre Ud. el anillo.
- (You) Buy the ring.
- Haga Ud. la tarea.
- (You) Do the homework.
- Compren Uds. los libros.
- (You-all) Buy the books.
- Hagan Uds. el trabajo.
- (You-all) Do the work.
By now, you are well acquainted with the fact that Spanish has both a formal and an informal style of speech (tú / Ud.). This distinction applies to commands.
- Compre Ud. el anillo.
- Buy the ring. (formal)
- Compra (tú) los dulces.
- Buy the candy. (familiar)
Informal, or familiar, speech is used among friends, coworkers, relatives, or when addressing a child. Formal speech is generally used to be polite or to express respect. For that reason, the formal commands are often referred to as polite commands.
The formal commands are formed the same way as the present subjunctive:
- Start with the yo form of the present indicative.
- Then drop the -o ending.
- Finally, add the following endings:
-e (for Ud.), -en (for Uds.)
-er and -ir verbs:
-a (for Ud.), -an (for Uds.)
The following examples of formal commands use three regular verbs: hablar, comer, and escribir.
Hable Ud. más lentamente.
Hablen Uds. más lentamente.
Speak more slowly.
Coma Ud. la cena.
Coman Uds. la cena.
Eat the dinner.
Escriba Ud. la carta.
Escriban Uds. la carta.
Write the letter.
Remember, if the first person singular (yo) form is irregular, that irregularity is carried over into the formation of the formal command.
- Tengan Uds. un buen viaje. (yo tengo)
- Have a good trip.
- Traiga Ud. el dinero. (yo traigo)
- Bring the money.
- Venga Ud. conmigo. (yo vengo)
- Come with me.
This also applies to stem-changing verbs.
- Cuente Ud. sus beneficios. (yo cuento)
- Count your blessings.
- Vuelvan Uds. pronto. (yo vuelvo)
- Return quickly.
- Pida dinero. (yo pido)
- Ask for money.
As with the present subjunctive, the following verbs are irregular:
Note that affirmative and negative commands use the same verb forms.
- Hable Ud.
- No hable Ud.
- Don’t speak.
- Coma Ud.
- No coma Ud.
- Don’t eat.
- Escriba Ud.
- No escriba Ud.
- Don’t write.
Also note that the subject pronouns Ud. and Uds. may or may not be used. Using them adds a degree of formality or politeness to the command.
- Hable Ud.
- Speak (sir). (more respectful)
- Coma Ud.
- Eat (sir). (more polite)
Let’s add two flashcards for the formal commands:
Formal Commands (Imperative)
Use the present subjunctive forms
No hable Ud.
No coma Ud.
No escriba Ud.
Irregular Formal Commands (Imperative)
Same irregulars as the present subjunctive forms