When to use Spanish perception verbs with El Pretérito Imperfecto
The Spanish verbs of perception ver, oler, oír, escuchar and sentir used in El Pretérito Imperfecto imply was/were able to without the need to use the modal verb poder.
Have a look at the following examples:
Note how in Spanish we don't need to include poder; we can use the verb of perception directly in El Pretérito Imperfecto, while in English the modal verb could is required ("I could see", "I could smell", "I could hear").
If we use the modal verb poder then it would be grammatically correct, but it is much more common to use these verbs directly in the imperfect tense. Look at these examples:
- -Nos sentamos en la última fila. -¿Y podíais ver bien a los actores?
- Tenía la radio puesta pero no podía escuchar nada por el ruido de las máquinas.
- Cuando estaba resfriada casi no podía oler la comida.
Saber = to taste
Bear in mind that the verb of perception "saber" (to taste) is used in the 3rd person singular or plural, so you say "[something] tasted nice/bad/a certain way" or "[some things] tasted nice/bad/a certain way". For example:
Here, the modal verb "poder" is not used.
Encontrar = to find
When the verb "encontrar" (to find) is used in the negative in El Pretérito Imperfecto, we also follow this rule. We use encontrar directly in El Pretérito Imperfecto with no modal verb: "No encontraba" is used frequently, while no podía encontrar is used infrequently. However, in English using "to find" in the imperfect tense is not an option if we mean that someone "couldn't find" something. For example:
I'm coming, I'm coming... I didn't find/wasn't finding the keys.
Using the present tense of the main verb is also the preferred form and not a construction with the modal verb poder, see:
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