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Discovering or Concluding -- and More!
The basic meaning of find is to encounter, and thus, the Spanish verbs hallar and encontrar (ue) are often the solution. Either verb can be used for people or things, so they are generally good first choices. The verb hallar has a bit of an edge where English-speaking students of Spanish are concerned because it is a regular -AR verb, in all tenses and moods. The verb encontrar is only irregular in the present and is easy to say and remember, since it is cognate with encounter. The related nouns for each are hallazgo and encuentro. These two derivative nouns, however are not synonymous. An hallazgo is a finding or a discovery -- of evidence, for example, while an encuentro is a meeting, often for the first time, but not necessarily of two people or groups. The noun encuentro is synonymous with reunión -- a meeting that is scheduled, whereas an encuentro is often by chance.
Encontré una sortija de oro en la playa (I found a gold ring on the beach). -- or Hallé...
Fue un hallazgo muy interesante (It was an interesting find). But less likely encuentro, though possible.
Hallé a Juan borracho en la calle (I found Juan on the streets, drunk). -- or Encontré...
Fue un encuentro muy incómodo (It was an uncomfortable encounter). But not hallazgo (unless his problem was at that moment revealed). Note that encuentro in this example would be rendered in English as a meeting.
The verb descubrir is cognate with the English verb to discover. Its derivative noun is descubrimiento, meaning a discovery, which are also synonymous words. Although cognate, the verb is irregular in the past participle, meaning that you have to know the form descubierto in order to form the perfect tenses.
Han descubierto unos libros raros en el sótano de su abuelo (They have discovered some strange books in their grandfather's basement).
As the above examples show, used with people, hallar and encontrar mean that you found a person in a certain place, not that you met them there. Remember: if you meet someone for the first time, the proper verb is conocer -- in the preterite. If you find out something about a person, you could use either descubrir or saber, in the preterite -- followed by a subordinated clause in which what you discovered is revealed.
Conocí a María anoche (I met María last night).
Descubrí que ella es heredera de una fortuna inmensa (I discovered that she is the heiress of a large fortune). or Supe que...
The verbs hallarse and encontrarse are used to express the idea of finding oneself is a certain condition or situation, and therefore are followed most often by an adjective:
Juan se halló pobre de repente (Juan found himself poor all of a sudden).
Se encontraron en una carretera desierta (They found themselves on a deserted highway).
- Based on the author's more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish