I'm taking a Spanish course and the "Vistas" textbook notes that "querer" changes meaning in the preterite. Here is a picture of the table explaining this:

Photo from the book

I'm concerned about the specific case of querer:

to want

Quiero ir, pero tengo que trabajar.
I want to go, but I have to work.


to try

Quise evitarlo, pero fue imposible.
I tried to avoid it, but it was impossible.

Is this meaning actually tried, as in they were in the process of doing it but failed for some reason, or is it just having the intention of doing something but failed, e.g. wanted to do something?

If I wanted to express actually trying to do something wouldn't I use tratar de? Example:

Traté de evitarlo, pero fue imposible.

  • 1
    The link you provided did not work. You can add pictures to your question instead...and btw I'd say Quise evitarlo translates I wanted to avoid it and I tried to avoid it would be Traté de evitarlo
    – DGaleano
    Mar 14, 2017 at 21:02
  • @DGaleano Thanks for your help. The link works for me, I'm not sure what happened.
    – giraffesyo
    Mar 14, 2017 at 21:17
  • It worked now. Anyway. I think that Quise=Wanted and Tried=Traté. It could happen that you "wanted to avoid it but you didn't tried to" so could say "quise evitarlo pero no traté de hacerlo" so "Quise" is no "Tried"
    – DGaleano
    Mar 14, 2017 at 21:32
  • Thank you for the clarification @DGaleano, that's what I thought. It's confusing that the textbook puts it this way then.
    – giraffesyo
    Mar 14, 2017 at 21:34

4 Answers 4


I agree with the author of the book in that "quise" is different from other forms of the verb "querer." "quise" suggests not only intention or volition (as other forms of the verb do) but the actual performance of some action or effort to make it true. In this respect, I understand why the author may have found it similar to "I tried."

I don't think "I wanted" will usually be translated as "quise" but as "quería" (only intention).

Now, I have to admit that "I tried" may not be the best translation for "quise," so my impression is that the main confusion lies in how "Quise" is translated. Rather than "I wanted" or "I tried," I'd say it is closer to:

  • I meant to avoid it, but it was impossible. (intention or wish + effort).

Notice the difference between:

  • No quería lastimarte. Sólo quería protegerte. (I would translate this as: I didn´t want to hurt you. I just wanted to protect you.)

  • No quise lastimarte. Sólo quise protegerte. (Here there is a stronger indication that the subject did something that, instead of protecting the other person, ended up hurting the latter: I didn't mean to hurt you. I only meant to protect you = In doing what I did, my only intention was to protect you.)

  • 1
    (+1) I think this captures the slightly different flavour of the proposed English translations well.
    – mdewey
    Mar 15, 2017 at 16:18
  • 1
    The difference is also important when negating the verb: Carmen no quería venir simply means Carmen didn't want to come, while Carmen no quiso venir specifies both that she didn't want to come and that she actually didn't. Carmen no quería venir, pero vino de todas formas makes sense; Carmen no quiso venir, pero vino de todas formas is contradictory.
    – Yay
    Mar 17, 2017 at 11:30

All these verbs actually have more than one meaning that is valid regardless of the tense. But also one of these meanings expresses a state (to know, can, want, all are somehow stable in time and expected to be currently valid) and one expresses a change of state or a less stable situation that was only valid for a short time (to meet, find out, manage to do, try).

One of the uses of preterit tense (Spanish Pretérito perfecto simple or pretérito indefinido) is to express single actions that took place and were completed in the past, not necessarily related to the current state of things.

In the case of the verbs mentioned above, the use of the preterit makes the meaning related to a current state less likely, while the meaning related to change or instant actions becomes more.

Of all the four examples, I think the one with querer is the most ambiguous.

According to the DLE (entry querer), intentar (to try) is among querer's secondary meanings (see n. 5). This fact creates room for what I described above.

In this case, fue imposible, stands in contrast with quise evitarlo by means of the adversative conjunction pero. It was impossible may be seen as implying you actually tried. But it is not wrong to read it the other way: you couldn't try, but you only wanted.

  • That is good +1
    – DGaleano
    Mar 15, 2017 at 17:54

It is debatable whether this (and the other examples given in the link) is a true change in meaning or a minor nuance, but in any case, what is happening is that the English translations of the present and of the preterite must be different for the nuance to be expressed and understood. Since English doesn't have a gramatical distinction between imperfect and preterite, some verbs in Spanish seem to correspond to two different concepts in English.

If you say quise evitarlo, the preterite implies that the wanting took place and then ended at a given point in the past, and by context (in this case) it is clear that you tried doing what you wanted and failed (you can't fail at wanting). Conversely, if you say traté de evitarlo, the fact that you wanted to is implied, and the fact that you tried is made explicit. The result is the same.

In this example you could equally have said Quería evitarlo pero fue imposible, but there the imperfect tense suggests that you didn't actually got to the point of trying: the goal became impossible while you were busy wanting to avoid it, so to speak.

  • what about "I tried to stop it but I really didn't wanted to" ? You could try even if you don't want to and you could want and not try to. Both English and Spanish have two verbs for two different actions to want and to try = querer e intentar/tratar
    – DGaleano
    Mar 14, 2017 at 23:19
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    @DGaleano That's kind of what I was thinking, like what if it was my girlfriend: "Even though I really didn't want to, I playfully tried to avoid her kiss." This means I, presumably, tried to avoid her kiss but failed and ended up being kissed (which is what I wanted)
    – giraffesyo
    Mar 15, 2017 at 0:26
  • @DGaleano Of course what you say is right, but context and common sense rule. The verbs are not identical but sometimes they do imply one another.
    – pablodf76
    Mar 15, 2017 at 1:25

"To try" en español puede significar querer, pero con problemas fenomenológicos . Intentar, incluso el verbo tratar (treat or to be addressed), son opciones más viables a mi entender.

Recuerde siempre tener en cuenta que la intención de la acción es importante, pero para estos casos hay que considerar el cómo o dónde se desarrolla acción del verbo.

Cuando alguien dice "quise" en vez de "intenté", sí hay diferencias importantes. Quise: tuve la intención de realizar una acción cualquiera. Intenté: realicé la acción, sin importar si fue exitosa o no su finalización.

Por eso, en mi humilde opinión, el recuadro tiene un problema al situar la conjugación de querer, quise, como traducción de To Try. La acción es diferente, siendo más adecuado To want, wanted. O bien en el sentido emocional, romántico o afectivo de querer en cuanto a to love.

La traducción, a mi parecer correcta, de "to try" en el transitivo debería ser "intenté". Incluso, un verbo más intermedio entre ambos conceptos que expongo, podría ser "to attempt", que sería lo más correcto.

Saludos cordiales.

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