In this blog post, I’ll share 5 ways of using the Spanish verb querer that will ensure that you master this common verb once and for all.
If you’ve been studying Spanish for any length of time, you will have likely come across querer.
You’ll also hopefully know how important this verb is, both from the point of view of how frequently it occurs and how useful it is.
Of course, even if you are at an intermediate or advanced level, it is still worthwhile revisiting not only this verb but other common verbs to ensure you understand how they are used in multiple contexts and a range of tenses.
So, with this in mind, I’ll firstly share with you a language hacking technique using querer. Then, I’ll go through the very irregular past tense for this verb. And then, I’ll show you 5 uses for this verb that you should try out in your next Spanish conversation.
By the way, technically for the record, it’s four uses as a verb and one as a noun.
But, we’ll get to that shortly.
Language hack: using compound phrases
One of the big challenges of learning Spanish is getting used to the sheer volume of verb conjugations you have to memorize.
Over time you will have to build up to knowing as many conjugations for as many Spanish verbs as you can. But, at the start, not knowing every conjugation doesn’t have to be a roadblock.
Moreover, even later in your Spanish journey, you may find, as I do, that forgetting verb conjugations is commonplace. I have been studying Spanish for 14 years and I often forget certain conjugations. When I do, I simply fall back on language a hacking technique called “compound phrases”.
In short, if you want to cut the learning curve for verb conjugations at the start of your Spanish journey (and make up for a bad day further along the track) aim on learning the conjugations of verbs you can use in compound phrases.
For this post, I’ll define a compound phrase as any combination of two verbs in succession. For example, “I like to laugh” or “I can’t work today.”
Typically, for compound phrases, you’ll find one verb in a conjugated form followed by another verb in an infinitive form.
As an aside, compound phrases can extend up to three or more verbs in a row with all but the first in infinitive form.
For this technique, the verbs to focus on include the Spanish equivalent of “I can…”, “I need…”, “I like…” and the main focal point of this post “I want…”.
Knowing the conjugations of these verbs will mean that you can start to form a range of ideas without knowing the conjugations of every verb you may want to use. This is particularly useful for irregular verbs and talking about actions in the past.
For example, imagine that you want to say:
“Yesterday, we didn’t eat.”
Here you will need to use the preterite 1st person plural of the Spanish verb for ‘to eat,’ comer. If you can’t remember this conjugation, you can change the phrase slightly to:
“Yesterday, we couldn’t eat.”
“Yesterday, we wanted to eat but we couldn’t.”
In order to express these ideas, you simply need to know the preterite 1st person plural of querer or poder. Again, this may be a challenge at first but once you know them, you’ll be able to voice a spread of ideas by substituting comer in the above sentences for any verb you want.
Here are the present conjugations of querer:
|Él / Ella||Quiere|
At this point, I could quite easily direct you to a resource that gives you every conjugation for querer but if learning verb conjugations has been a challenge thus far or you simply want to save yourself time, concentrate solely on the present conjugations above and the conjugations in the next section.
This is the minimalist’s approach to learning verb conjugations—not completely thorough but very useful and effective.
Querer’s very irregular preterite
The preterite form of querer is quite unusual.
What seems even more bizarre (at least to me) is that the past imperfect conjugations of querer are completely regular.
Despite the strange behavior of this irregular verb, the most important question you should ask yourself is not why the verb is the way it is but instead—how can you remember it?
Here are the conjugations of querer in the past preterite:
|Él / Ella||Quiso|
For a reminder of how to use the past preterite, listen to this podcast episode.
Use 1. Talking about desires
The first use of querer is the easiest to translate.
For the most part, whenever you want to express an idea where you would use ‘want’ in English, you can use the verb querer.
Here are a few examples:
English: I want to go to Japan next year.
Español: Quiero ir a Japón el próximo año.
English: I want to be an actor.
Español: Quiero ser actor.
English: Do you want another glass of wine?
Español: ¿Quieres otra copa de vino?
Apart from querer, another common way to talk about your desires in Spanish is to use the conditional tense.
Use 2. When you want to express love for someone
The next use of querer is for expressing feelings amongst loved ones.
A few examples:
English: I love you.
Español: Te quiero.
English: Do you really love him?
Español: ¿De verdad le quieres?
This second use of querer isn’t exclusively for expressing romantic love. It can be used for expressing love for a child, a parent, or a grandparent. For example:
English: How I love you, Grandpa!
Español: ¡Cuánto te quiero, abuelo!
It is worth noting that if you add anything after the phrase ‘te quiero…,’ the meaning goes back to the first use of querer detailed above. For example:
English: I want to give you a gift.
Español: ¡Te quiero dar un regalo!
Use 3. In combination with the verb decir
When you combine the verb querer with the verb decir you create a phrase that is best translated to English as ‘to mean.’
English: Do you know what I mean?
Español: ¿Sabes lo que quiero decir?
English: I don’t know what ‘encargar’ means.
Español: No sé qué quiere decir ‘encargar’.
English: Although she says the film is slow, what she means is that it is boring.
Español: Aunque ella dice que la película es lenta, lo que quiere decir es que es aburrida.
The phrase querer decir could also be translated into English as ‘to want to say’.
For me, there is a subtle shift in meaning that occurs between these two phrases in English:
What I wanted to say…
What I meant…
Again, the difference here is subtle but the first could imply that you didn’t say exactly what you wanted to say, and second, that you said what you wanted to say but you need to explain further because the listener didn’t understand.
These two phrases would both be translated to Spanish as:
Lo que quería decir…
In other words, the subtle change that occurs in English can’t be expressed in Spanish. This has caused me a little bit of grief but at the same time, these ‘lost in translation’ moments are an aspect of language learning that I find endlessly fascinating.
Use 4. Not deliberately
Another way to use querer is for describing a lack of intention.
If you want to say that you didn’t do something deliberately or it wasn’t your intended purpose, you can finish with the phrase sin querer.
Here are some examples:
English: I did it without meaning to.
Español: Lo hice sin querer.
English: Unintentionally, they started arguing.
Español: Sin querer, empezaron a discutir.
English: She solved the problem inadvertently.
Español: Ella resolvió el problema sin querer.
Use 5. Querer as a noun
As a noun, querer means ‘affection’, ‘wanting’ or ‘love’ (like the noun in English).
I have been told this use of querer is poetic. This implies that you are more likely to find querer in its noun form in literature. That said, the use of querer as a noun in verbal communication is not entirely absent.
So, here’s how to use querer as a noun:
English: He did it for her affection.
Español: Lo hizo por su querer.
English: I no longer want your love.
Español: Ya no quiero tu querer.
English: He was always faithful in his affection.
Español: Siempre fue fiel en su querer.
Querer is a super useful Spanish verb.
The idea of ‘wanting’ something is an idea we express on a daily basis.
Build your knowledge of Spanish this week by practicing all the uses of querer and its conjugations in the present and past preterite.
For a little extra inspiration, here is the translation of the common English saying:
English: Where there is a will there is a way.
Español: Querer es poder.
How else can you use the verb querer in a Spanish sentence?
Leave your suggestions, questions or comments below!