How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Encontrar’

Most common translation is ‘to find’

Punto de encuentro
Punto de encuentro cerca de Bogotá, Colombia. (Meeting point near Bogota, Colombia.).

Gustavo Facci / licensed via Creative Commons.

Although encontrar is obviously a cognate of the English verb "to encounter" and has the same basic meaning, it is more common than the English verb and is used in a wider variety of situations.

Using Encontrar for ‘To Find’

Most of the time, encontrar can be translated as "to find" with its varieties of meanings:

  • Quiero encontrar al hombre de mi vida. (I want to find the man of my life.)
  • Aquí vas a encontrar el mejor jazz en el mundo. (Here you are going to find the best jazz in the world.)
  • No encuentro la opción de exportar la foto. (I'm not finding the option for exporting the photo.)
  • ¿Encontraste las llaves del coche? (Did you find the keys to the car?)
  • No pude encontrar lo que estaba buscando. (I couldn't find what I was looking for.)
  • Encontré que las puertas de las oportunidades se abrieron. (I found that the doors of opportunity were opened.)
  • Los médicos le encontraron el cáncer justo a tiempo. (The doctors found his cancer just in time.)
  • Encontraron dificultad para diferenciar entre lesiones benignas y malignas. (They found difficulty in differentiating between benign and harmful injuries.)

In the above examples, other translations for encontrar are possible: I'm not locating the option for exporting the photo. I saw that the doors of opportunity were opened. The doctors discovered his cancer just in time. They ran into difficulty in differentiating between benign and harmful injuries. They encountered difficulty in differentiating between benign and harmful injuries.

If you try translating a sentence using encontrar and "find" doesn't work well, you may have better luck using one of the verbs in the above paragraph.

Using Encontrarse

The reflexive form encontrarse sometimes suggests that something was found unexpectedly or by chance:

  • Se encontraron el dinero en la calle. (They (unexpectedly) found the money in the streets.)
  • Yo me encuentro el mismo problema. (I am (unintentionally) finding the same problem.)

The reflexive form can also be used to mean "to meet each other" or "to find each other."

  • Brad y Jennifer se encontraron en secreto. (Brad and Jennifer met in secret.)
  • La medicina y la fe se encuentran en Lourdes. (Medicine and faith meet at Lourdes.)

The reflexive form can also be used to give the verb a passive meaning:

  • Se encontraron las llaves de la casa, pero ningún efecto personal. (The keys to the house were found, but no personal effects.)
  • No se encontró nada. Era una falsa alerta. (Nothing was found. It was a false alarm.)

Conjugating Encontrar

Keep in mind that encontrar is conjugated irregularly, following the pattern of sonar. When the stem of the verb is stressed, the o changes to ue. Verb forms that are irregular (in boldface) are:

  • Present indicative (I find, you find, etc.): yo encuentro, tú encuentras, usted/él/ella encuentra, nosotros/as encontramos, vosotros/as encontráis, ustedes/ellos/ellas encuentran.
  • Present subjunctive (that I find, that you find, etc.): que yo encuentre, que tú encuentres, que usted/él/ella encuentre, que nosotros/as encontremos, que vosotros/as encontréis, que ustedes/ellos/ellas encuentren.
  • Imperative (commands): encuentra (tú), no encuentres (tú), encuentre usted, encontremos (nosotros/as), encontrad (vosotros/as), no encontréis (vosotros/as), encuentren ustedes.

All other forms are regularly conjugated.

Nouns Related to Encontrar

The most common noun based on encontrar is el encuentro, which can refer to encounters of various kinds.

  • Su encuentro con la muerte la ha cambiado. (Her encounter with death has changed her.)
  • El encuentro promete sumar aviones de muy alta performance. (The gathering promises to bring together super-high-perfomance airplanes.)
  • Convocan a un encuentro de música y poesía en Puerto Rico. (They are organizing a music and poetry event in Puerto Rico.)
  • Habló sobre el famoso encuentro de él y su amigo en un hotel. (He spoke about the famous meeting between him and his friend in a hotel.)

Encuentro can also refer to a crash or collision, although it is more common to use encontronazo: El encontronazo deja al menos 10 lesionados. (The collision left at least 10 injured.)

Key Takeaways 

  • The verb encontrar usually means "to find," although it can also be translated using verbs such as "to encounter" and "discover."
  • Encontrar is conjugated irregularly; the stressed o of the stem becomes ue.
  • The noun form encuentro refers to various kinds of encounters.
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Erichsen, Gerald. "How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Encontrar’." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Encontrar’. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Encontrar’." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).