Most verbs of perception usually use the present, not the modal poder (I can see, I can smell, I can hear, I can feel)

With most (but not all) verbs of perception (ver, oler, oír) the present tense of these verbs is usually used in Spanish, whilst in English the modal verb to be able is needed ("I can see", "I can smell", "I can hear")

In Spanish it is not usually necessary to use the modal verb "poder". We can use the perception verb directly in El Presente.

Here are some examples:

Yo veo muy bien con mis gafas nuevas.I can see very well with my new glasses. [lit: I see very well]

María no oye bien. Tiene un problema con sus oídos.María can't hear well. She has a problem with her hearing. [lit: María doesn't hear]

¿Tú hueles a gas?Can you smell gas? [lit: do you smell gas?]

Siento la brisa en mi piel.I can feel the breeze on my skin.

We could also use the modal verb poder and it would be grammatically correct, but it is much more common to use these verbs directly in the present tense, without poder. Look at these examples:

  • Yo puedo ver muy bien con mis gafas nuevas.
  • María no puede oír bien.
  • ¿Tu puedes oler a gas?
  • Puedo sentir la brisa del mar.

 Saber = to taste

Bear in mind that with the verb "saber" (to taste), is used to talk in the 3rd person singular or plural, so you say "something tastes nice/bad" or "some things taste nice/bad". For example:

El cocido sabe rico.The stew tastes nice.

Las patatas saben saladas.The chips taste salty.

Here, the modal verb "poder" is not used.

 

Extra note on other verbs using the present in Spanish

When the verb "encontrar" (to find) is used in the negative in El Presente, we also follow this rule. We use encontrar directly in El Presente with no modal verb (e.g. We normally say "No encuentro" and much less frequently poder encontrar). However, in English using "to find" in the present tense is not an option. For example:

¡No encuentro mis llaves!I can't find my keys!

I don't find my keys!

 

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Examples and resources

María no oye bien. Tiene un problema con sus oídos.María can't hear well. She has a problem with her hearing. [lit: María doesn't hear]
Yo veo muy bien con mis gafas nuevas.I can see very well with my new glasses. [lit: I see very well]
¡No encuentro mis llaves!I can't find my keys!
Las patatas saben saladas.The chips taste salty.
Siento la brisa en mi piel.I can feel the breeze on my skin.
El cocido sabe rico.The stew tastes nice.
¿Tú hueles a gas?Can you smell gas? [lit: do you smell gas?]
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