Using the subjunctive to express doubt or uncertainty

When we introduce a sentence with a verb that expresses doubt or uncertainty, whether it be affirmative or negative, it is followed by the subjunctive. For example:

  • dudo que...  (I doubt that...)
  • es posible que...  (It is possible that...)
  • es probable que...  (It is probable that...)

Dudo que ellos hayan tenido mala intención.
I doubt that they had bad intentions.

Es probable que comas mucho marisco en España.
It is probable that you'll eat a lot of seafood in Spain.

These are negative examples:

No es posible que se pierdan.
It is not possible for them to get lost.

No es probable que haga mal tiempo en México.
It is not probable that the weather is bad in Mexico.

 Here are more common doubt or uncertainty phrases which apply this rule:

  • Es dudoso que... (It is doubtful that...)
  • Es imposible que... (It is impossible that...)
  • Es improbable que... (It is improbable that...)
  • Temo que... (I suspect that...)

Have a look and listen to these examples which use the subjunctive:

Es imposible que elija ese camino para ir a la ciudad.
It is impossible that he chooses that route to get to the city.

Temo que no llegues a tiempo a tu entrevista.
I suspect that you will not arrive on time to your interview.

Puede ser que los novios se casaran en Haití.
It might be that the bride and groom got married in Haiti.

However, if the expressions introduce a quality of certainty, we need to use Modo indicativo. For example compare:

  • Estoy segura de que has llegado a tiempo

with

  • No estoy segura de que hayas llegado a tiempo.

Notice how in all the sentences using the subjunctive above the subject of the introductory phrase is not the same as the subordinate phrase:

Dudo (de) que tengan mala intención.

dudo= I doubt / tenganthey have

This is a condition that must be met in order to use the subjunctive.

However, if the subject in the main and subordinate phrase is the same, we would use the infinitive instead:

Dudo tener mala intención.

Notice there is no que in this case.

I doubt having bad intentions. (=I doubt that I have bad intentions.)

See also:

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Es imposible que elija ese camino para ir a la ciudad.
It is impossible that he chooses that route to get to the city.


Puede ser que los novios se casaran en Haití.
It might be that the bride and groom got married in Haiti.


Dudo que ellos hayan tenido mala intención.
I doubt that they had bad intentions.


No es probable que haga mal tiempo en México.
It is not probable that the weather is bad in Mexico.


Es probable que comas mucho marisco en España.
It is probable that you'll eat a lot of seafood in Spain.


No es posible que se pierdan.
It is not possible for them to get lost.


Temo que no llegues a tiempo a tu entrevista.
I suspect that you will not arrive on time to your interview.


Q&A

Kristen

Kwiziq community member

19 November 2018

1 reply

Mateo is not sure that the athlete won the competition. : Mateo no está seguro de que el atleta ___ la competición.

According to the kwiz, there are 2 correct answers to the question:

haya ganado ( my answer) 

ganara ( imperfect subjunctive)

The page on the subjunctive does not address using these subjunctives interchangeably. I learned that when the subjunctive trigger is in the present tense ( no está seguro) and the event being considered is in the past ( won the competition), the present perfect subjunctive is called for. Do you have a lesson the the distinction?

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

20 November 2018

20/11/18

Hola Kristen,

The lesson is about using the subjunctive after verbs that imply uncertainty. Both options are correct "haya ganado" and "ganara"; they both express an event in the past. 

We do not have a lesson at the moment about the sequence of tenses in these cases. But it's been noted so, hopefully, it will be in the system soon.

Gracias y un saludo

Inma

Steve

Kwiziq community member

22 April 2018

1 reply

Es imposible ...


Es imposible ________ todo a la primera. It is impossible to understand everything at the first time.hi - I saw this question and thought ‘ es impossible’ would trigger the subjunctive,  but the answer was the infinitive. If I click ‘explain this’ it takes me to the subjunctive page, which has ‘es imposible que’ - is the ‘que’  the only thing making it subjunctive then?

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

22 April 2018

22/04/18

Hola Steve

Yes, if there is no "que", then you need an infinitive. 

Thanks for your query.

Saludos

Inma

Jonathan

Kwiziq community member

15 February 2018

1 reply

Parece que

Inma

Kwiziq language super star

15 February 2018

15/02/18

Hi Jonathan

What is your doubt with "Parece que"?

Inma

Thinking...