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How to “Be Able To” in Portuguese


The Portuguese verb poder is one of the most common in the language. The infinitive form doesn’t have a direct translation in English, but it means “to be able to,” and its conjugated forms usually mean some variant of “can” or “could.” It’s one of the most useful Portuguese verbs for a non-native speaker, as it can help you get around if you’re traveling to a Portuguese-speaking country. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most complicated to learn! You’ll need to practice with an expert tutor to get the hang of it.


Conjugating “Poder”

Poder is an extremely irregular verb, which confuses even native Portuguese speakers sometimes. In particular, pode and pôde are close both in spelling and pronunciation, but one means “can,” and the other “could.” Also, in some tenses, the verb root changes from “pod” to “pud,” which is unusual. Learning how to conjugate poder requires quite a lot of practice.


In this post, we look at nine tenses, constituting the indicative and subjunctive moods, plus the gerund and the past participle. We ignore the imperative mood. Telling someone to be able to do something is uncommon—and unlikely to achieve the desired result!


Note: The Portuguese personal pronouns used below translate as eu – I, tu – you (informal), nós – we, ele – he/it, ela – she/it, você – you (singular), eles/elas – they, and vocês – you (plural).


Infinitive; “to be able to”

Poder


Gerund; “being able to”

Podendo


Past participle; “been able to”

Podido


Indicative mood: simple present; “can”

Eu posso

Tu podes

Nós podemos

Ele/ela/você pode

Eles/elas/vocês podem


Indicative mood: simple past; “could, was/were able to”

Eu pude

Tu pudeste

Nós pudemos

Ele/ela/você pôde

Eles/elas/vocês puderam


Indicative mood: past imperfect; “could, used to be able to”

Eu podia

Tu podias

Nós podíamos

Ele/ela/você podia

Eles/elas/vocês podiam


Indicative mood: pluperfect; “could, had been able to”

Eu pudera

Tu puderas

Nós pudéramos

Ele/ela/você pudera

Eles/elas/vocês puderam


Indicative mood: simple future; “can, will be able to”

Eu poderei

Tu poderás

Nós poderémos

Ele/ela/você poderá

Eles/elas/vocês poderão


Indicative mood: conditional/future of the past; “could, would be able to”

Eu poderia

Tu poderias

Nós poderíamos

Ele/ela/você poderia

Eles/elas/vocês poderiam


Subjunctive mood: present; “that (pronoun) can/could”

Que eu possa

Que tu possas

Que nós possamos

Que ele/ela/você possa

Que eles/elas/vocês possam


Subjunctive mood: imperfect; “if (pronoun) could”

Se eu pudesse

Se tu pudesses

Se nós pudéssemos

Se ele/ela/você pudesse

Se eles/elas/vocês pudessem


Subjunctive mood: future; “when (pronoun) can”

Quando eu puder

Quando tu puderes

Quando nós pudermos

Quando ele/ela/você puder

Quando eles/elas/vocês puderem


Asking Permission

As well as meaning “to be able to” in Portuguese, poder is also used to ask for permission, usually using the present tense. A statement of fact can be turned into a question simply by adding a question mark or changing the intonation to the interrogative form; for example, eu posso usar essa caneta, “I can use that pen,” becomes “can I use that pen?” simply by adding a question mark: eu posso usar essa caneta? When somebody is using poder in a sentence, it’s important to pay attention to their intonation, as it can be the only difference between a statement and a question.


Examples

Now we look at some different ways you can “be able to” in Portuguese with ten poder usage examples in various tenses.


I can go to the beach today.

Eu posso ir para a praia hoje.


Can we go to the beach today?

Podemos ir para a praia hoje?


She couldn’t go to the party.

Ela não pôde ir à festa.


I could touch my toes when I was younger.

Eu podia tocar meus dedos quando eu era mais jovem.


They had been able to prepare before the event.

Eles puderam se preparar antes do evento.


We will be able to go to the beach tomorrow.

Nós poderemos ir para a praia amanhã.


If he were taller, he could reach the shelf.

Se ele fosse mais alto, ele poderia alcançar a prateleira.


We need to work so that we can go to the beach.

Precisamos trabalhar para que possamos ir à praia.


If I could, I would go to the beach.

Se eu pudesse, eu iria para a praia.


I’ll go to the beach when I can.

Eu irei para a praia quando puder.


Practice to “Be Able to” in Portuguese

As we have seen, poder is a complicated, highly flexible verb that requires a lot of practice if it is to be mastered. Fortunately, our tutors are there to help! Whatever your schedule, they’ll be able to fit into it, and devise a lesson plan that works for you. Schedule your first lesson and you’ll “be able to” in Portuguese faster than you think.

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