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.
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”
Gerund; “being able to”
Past participle; “been able to”
Indicative mood: simple present; “can”
Indicative mood: simple past; “could, was/were able to”
Indicative mood: past imperfect; “could, used to be able to”
Indicative mood: pluperfect; “could, had been able to”
Indicative mood: simple future; “can, will be able to”
Indicative mood: conditional/future of the past; “could, would be able to”
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
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.
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.