In Spain, Ley Orgánica 4/2000 de 11 de enero contains the sentence,

"En el procedimiento podrá requerirse la comparecencia personal del solicitante."

To me (and apparently to the consulado), that means I will be required to appear in person. But Google Translate says "… may be …"

I like to think my Spanish is better than Google's, but I'd like to know what this group thinks about this one.

2 Answers 2


Because the verb can is defective in English, it's hard to imagine what poder means outside if present or past (where poder generally translates to can's old past tense, could).

Sometimes for other forms like the perfects (he podido, etc) or potentials (podré, podría), it can be easier to switch to English's periphrastic equivalent, to be able. When used impersonally and in the present/past it would translate better with the pair of also-defective verbs may/might, it tends to make more sense as to be possible or as the adverb possibly with the other verb placed in the appropriate English tense.

In this light, we can see that this sentence says that the personal appearance will possibly be required. In English, we would simply render this, though, as a personal appearance may(at such future time) be required.

The consulate, of course, based on that law is free to require it, but may if it chooses, opt not to require it.

  • Thanks. The consulate website states it as an absolute requirement, but some people have said they got theirs without appearing in person.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 25, 2017 at 12:21
  • @WGroleau it will depend on the consulate, and of course it's their discretion to make exceptions (if the law strictly obligated it, they couldn't make any exceptions). If this is for a visa, I can probably attest to having been allowed to do things via mail rather than the normal in person. Jun 25, 2017 at 12:24
  • Yes, visa. What a bureaucratic nuisance. Sounds like you might have some insight into expatriates.stackexchange.com/q/11220/583
    – WGroleau
    Jun 25, 2017 at 12:33
  • P.S. Since I knew 'poder' as 'to be able to,' it must have been a senior moment for me to translate it as 'will'! :-)
    – WGroleau
    Jun 25, 2017 at 12:34
  • There's the objective meaning of the expression, and then there's the burocrat's interpretation. Jun 26, 2017 at 5:35

If you had to translate "En el procedimiento se requerirá la comparecencia (...)", what would you translate it to?

You'd probably say "will be", too.
But the two sentences have clearly different meanings, so that cannot be right, can it?

As a reference, these are the correct tenses:

  • Sure future action: se requerirá --> will be required
  • Probable future action: podrá requerirse --> may be required
  • Possible future action: podría requerirse --> might be required
  • Yes, as I commented above, I made a ridiculous mistranslation of "poder"
    – WGroleau
    Jun 26, 2017 at 11:51

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