Tratar vs Probar: What’s the Difference Between these Spanish Verbs?
How do you say “try to” in Spanish? Intentar, probar, tratar? Some students get confused with so many options for one single word. However, you’ll see it’s easier than you think.
Today, I’m teaching you what the difference between tratar, probar, and intentar are; when to use each one of them, and when you can safely choose whichever you like. You’re also getting conjugation charts for main past, present, and future tenses and sample sentences to see them in context!
Last but not least, you can try yourself out in a multiple choice quiz on tratar, probar, and intentar and you can even download the printable version of it together with a summary of the lesson.
Let’s start then!
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Tratar, Probar, Intentar: What’s the Difference?
That’s true that they all translate into “to try” but they are not always interchangeable. Later on, you’ll see in which situations you could use two of them or even all three, and what uses are more specific and reserved only to one of them.
In a nutshell, intentar and tratar are more synonymical and they refer to an attempt to do a certain activity. Probar means to try something new, try on, taste and test. However, you need to have in mind the structures you will use with each of these verbs, the way you have to conjugate them, and some subtle, and not so subtle, differences in meaning.
Let’s start with intentar.
Meaning: to try to do something, to intend to, to mean to do something. It’s basically interchangeable with tratar de.
In some cases, intentar can simply mean to have the intention of doing a certain activity, but not necessarily engaging in it, and doing your best. So when you say intenté hacerlo and traté de hacerlo, the second one means that you really did something to make it happen and in the first situation you just wanted to do it.
Intenté hacerlo pero fue muy dificil y mejor ví una pelí.
I tried to do it but it was very difficult and I better saw a movie.
Traté de hacerlo, pero no me salió.
I tried to do it, but it didn’t work out.
Nevertheless, in the real world, you’ll see that people use both of them as synonyms, without paying too much attention to subtle shades of meaning. However, I have an impression that tratar is less used by Spanish-native speakers in informal conversations, and you will rather hear ¿intentaste hacerlo? Que ¿Trataste de hacerlo?.
Remember, intentar is only followed by an infinitive with no prepositions in between. “Intentar a” is simply incorrect.
Intentar – Conjugation
Intentar is a verb that belongs to the -ar conjugation. Let’s see how you conjugate it in the present tense, past tense, and future tense.
Present Simple tense
The conjugation of intentar in the present tense is easy. It follows all the rules without exceptions.
Intentar – present tense conjugation chart
|yo intento||I try to|
|tú intentas||you try to|
|él, ella, usted intenta||he, she, it, tries to (fml. you try to)|
|nosotros intentamos||we try to|
|ustedes intentan||you try to|
|ellos, ellas intentan||they try to|
Intento hacer la tarea pero no me sale.
I try to do my homework but it doesn’t work out.
Mis papás intentan aprender Español pero no tienen tiempo.
My parents try to learn Spanish but they don’t have time.
Ella solo intenta ayudarte, no te enojes.
She’s just trying to help you, don’t be mad.
The Preterite Tense
Let’s see the preterite conjugation for intentar. It’s also very regular.
Intentar – preterite tense conjugation chart
|yo intenté||I tried to|
|tú intentaste||you tried to|
|él, ella, usted intentó||he, she, it, tried to (fml. you tried to)|
|nosotros intentamos||we tried to|
|ustedes intentaron||you tried to|
|ellos, ellas intentaron||they tried to|
Intenté hacerlo yo sola, pero al final me ayudó mi hermano.
I tried to do it myself, but in the end, my brother helped me.
Sara intentó pasar el examen, pero no lo logró.
Sara tried to pass the exam, but she was unsuccessful.
Intentamos ahorrar el año pasado pero se nos averió el coche y tuvimos que comprar uno nuevo.
We tried to save some money last year but our car broke down and we had to buy a new one.
The Future Simple Tense
Finally, let’s have a look at the regular future tense conjugation for intentar:
Intentar – future tense conjugation chart
|yo intentaré||I will try to|
|tú intentarás||you will try to|
|él, ella, usted intentará||he, she, it, will try to (fml. you will try to)|
|nosotros intentaremos||we will try to|
|ustedes intentarán||you will try to|
|ellos, ellas intentarán||they will try to|
Lo intentaré, te lo prometo.
I’ll try, I promise.
Pedro intentará romper el record mundial.
Pedro will try to break the world record.
Intentaremos otra vez, no pasa nada.
We will try again, don’t worry.
As I said earlier, tratar is almost a perfect synonym for intentar. However, watch out, if you want it to mean “to try”, you need to add the preposition de. If you use it without this preposition, it means “to cure”, “to treat”, or “to address”. Look:
Trata estos niños con respeto.
Treat these children with respect.
Trata de hablar más despacio.
Try to speak more slowly.
So keep in mind tratar vs tratar de if you want to avoid some confusion.
Tratar – Conjugation
Tratar is a verb that also belongs to the -ar conjugation. Let’s see how you conjugate it in the present tense, past tense, and future tense.
Present Simple tense
The conjugation of tratar in the present tense is also easy. It follows all the rules without exceptions.
tratar – present tense conjugation chart
|yo trato||I try to|
|tú tratas||you try to|
|él, ella, usted trata||he, she, it, tries to (fml. you try to)|
|nosotros tratamos||we try to|
|ustedes tratan||you try to|
|ellos, ellas tratan||they try to|
Trato de dar lo mejor de mi.
I try to do my best.
Por qué no tratas de hablar con él, ya se le habrá pasado el enojo.
Why don’t you try to talk to him, he is surely less angry now.
Ellos tratan de poner un negocio propio.
They try to start a business of their own.
The Preterite Tense
Let’s see the preterite conjugation for tratar. This one is also very regular.
tratar – preterite tense conjugation chart
|yo traté||I tried to|
|tú trataste||you tried to|
|él, ella, usted trató||he, she, it, tried to (fml. you tried to)|
|nosotros tratamos||we tried to|
|ustedes trataron||you tried to|
|ellos, ellas trataron||they tried to|
Traté de subir el árbol pero solamente me raspé las rodillas.
I tried to climb the tree but only scraped my knees.
¡Usted trató de engañarme!
You tried to fool me!
Ustedes trataron de hacerlo bien, lo sé.
You guys tried to get it right, I know.
The Future Simple Tense
And last but not least, the regular future tense conjugation for tratar:
tratar – future tense conjugation chart
|yo trataré||I will try to|
|tú tratarás||you will try to|
|él, ella, usted tratará||he, she, it, will try to (fml. you will try to)|
|nosotros trataremos||we will try to|
|ustedes tratarán||you will try to|
|ellos, ellas tratarán||they will try to|
Trataré de levantarme temprano pero no garantizo los resultados.
I will try to get up early but I do not guarantee results.
Trataremos de arreglar el asunto.
We will try to fix the matter.
¿Y ellos, tratarán de entrar a la universidad?
And will they try to get into college?
Probar is the most specific of all three verbs and it can have three different meanings, two of them very different from intentar and tratar.
1. To taste, to try for the first time. Here, the verb probar comes with a noun, immediately after. You can use probar to describe your firsts with food and dishes.
¿Quieres probar mi pastel?
Do you want to taste my cake?
Pruébalo, te gustará.
Try it, you will like it.
Lo probé pero no me gustó, sabe raro.
I tried it but I didn’t like it, it tastes weird.
2. To eat or drink. In this meaning, probar is also followed by a noun.
Desde el año pasado no prueba el alcohol.
Since last year, he has not drunk alcohol.
3. To try clothes on. In this case, probar becomes a reflexive verb and must be used with reflexive pronouns.
Pruébate esta falda. Te quedará bien.
Try on this skirt. It will look good on you.
4. To justify something with facts, arguments, or witnesses. Here, it’s a synonym to demostrar (to prove).
Pruébalo! No te creo nada.
Prove it! I don’t believe you at all.
Mi profesor probó que el hielo se derrite.
My teacher proved that ice melts.
5. To try to do something. It’s a synonym to intentar and tratar de. In this meaning, you need to add a preposition a and later another verb in the infinitive.
Probó a levantarse y no pudo.
He tried to get up and couldn’t.
6. To test. In this case, it also goes with a noun.
¿Has probado el sonido y el video?
Have you tested sound and video?
Probar – Conjugation
Probar is a verb that also belongs to the -ar conjugation like intentar and tratar but you need to watch out for some irregularities. Let’s see how you conjugate it in the present tense, past tense, and future tense.
Present Simple tense
The conjugation of probar in present tense undergoes a stem change from o-ue in all grammatical persons but “we”.
probar – present tense conjugation chart
|yo pruebo||I try|
|tú pruebas||you try|
|él, ella, usted prueba||he, she, it, tries (fml. you try)|
|nosotros probamos||we try|
|ustedes prueban||you try|
|ellos, ellas prueban||they try|
Nosotros probamos el pastel y nos encantó.
We tried the cake and we loved it.
Tú siempre pruebas todas las galletas y no te comes ninguna.
You always taste all the cookies and don’t eat any.
Nosotros probamos la hipótesis y sacamos un A en el examen.
We proved the hypothesis and got an A on the test.
The Preterite Tense
However, in the preterite, the conjugation for probar gets back to a regular one and you don’t have to watch out for any exceptions or irregularities.
probar – preterite tense conjugation chart
|yo probé||I tried|
|tú probaste||you tried|
|él, ella, usted probó||he, she, it, tried (fml. you tried)|
|nosotros probamos||we tried|
|ustedes probaron||you tried|
|ellos, ellas probaron||they tried|
Me probé la ropa y no me gustó.
I tried on the clothes and I didn’t like them.
Ellos probaron a arreglarlo pero sin éxito.
They tried to fix it but without success.
¿Probaste a reiniciar la compu?
Did you try restarting the computer?
The Future Simple Tense
Let’s have a look at the regular future tense conjugation for probar:
probar – future tense conjugation chart
|yo probaré||I will try to|
|tú probarás||you will try to|
|él, ella, usted probará||he, she, it, will try to (fml. you will try to)|
|nosotros probaremos||we will try to|
|ustedes probarán||you will try to|
|ellos, ellas probarán||they will try to|
Prometo que no probaré dulces durante todo el año.
I promise I will not eat sweets all year long.
Me probaré estos pantalones.
I will try these pants on.
Probaré a estudiar más.
I will try to study more.
Tratar, Probar, Intentar – Multiple Choice Quiz
Now that you know all the possible meanings of tratar, probar, and intentar and you also know how to conjugate these verbs, let’s see if you can answer correctly the following questions. There is only one possible answer.
1. El no ______________ los vegetales porque no le gustan.
2. Estoy ______________ aprender español.
3. Está ______________ de averiguar la respuesta.
4. ______________ a empujar más fuerte.
5. Me gustaría ______________ este vestido de novia.
6. Tienes que ______________, si no, no te creeré.
7. Lo ______________ te lo juró.
8. Has ______________ el nuevo modelo de este coche?
9. ______________ de hacerlo bien.
10. ______________ hablar más bajito.
¿Intentarás aprender los tres verbos? Tratarás de entender las diferencias? Probarás a conjugarlos todos? (Will you try to learn the three verbs? Will you try to understand the differences? Will you try to conjugate them all?)
What really helps to learn new vocabulary is using it in conversations. Sign up for a free class and practice intentar, tratar, and probar in a one-to-one conversation with one of our native, Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala.
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