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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.

Here 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 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.

When the subject in the main and subordinate phrase is the same, we 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:

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Examples and resources

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.
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.
Clever stuff underway!