Spanish Preterit Verbs with Irregular Meanings


In a previous unit we talked about Irregular Verbs in the Preterit Tense in Spanish and today we will take things one step further from irregular verbs to irregular meanings.

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In our last lesson we talked about Irregular Verbs in the Preterit Tense in Spanish and today we will take things one step further from irregular verbs to irregular meanings. We have a number of verbs in Spanish that change meaning when they are used in the Preterit Tense versus the Imperfect Tense (lesson to come!). Let’s check them out…

Grammar deep dive: As we talk about these verbs and their meaning changes, remember that these changes are really about the perspective of the tense being used, not the actual definition of the verb changing.

VerbOriginal MeaningPreterit Tense Meaning
ConocerTo knowTo meet
EstarTo beTo become
PoderTo be able toTo manage
Querer / No quererTo want / Not to wantTo try / To refuse
SaberTo knowTo find out (information)
TenerTo haveTo receive

Let’s take a look at a few of these verbs in action:


Present: Yo conozco a Daniel. – I know Daniel.

Preterit: Yo conocí a Daniel. – I met Daniel.


Present: Nosotros queremos un pastel con fresas. – We want a cake with strawberries.

Preterit: Nosotros quisimos un pastel con fresas. – We tried a cake with strawberries.


Present: Ella sabe que él es de Argentina. – She knows that he is from Argentina.

Preterit: Ella supo que él es de Argentina. – She found out that he is from Argentina. 

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.