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:

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

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.


Q&A Forum 6 questions, 6 answers

AlexanderC1Kwiziq community member

Parece que, why incorrect?

I am wondering why in the question "Which of the following expressions are followed by the subjunctive?" the option "Parece que" was marked as incorrect? There is no any information about it in the explanation. However it is followed by the subjunctive, isn't it?

Asked 5 days ago
InmaKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hola Alexander

Most of the time "parece que" is followed by the indicative, because it would have the same nuance as "Creo que..." . You can also use it with an indirect object pronoun "me parece que, le parece que..." to express somebody thinks that... 

However, there are cases where "parece que" can be followed by the subjunctive. To simplify it here in the forum I'd say when this is the case, the speaker is expressing some disbelief about what he/she is saying. I will give you a couple of examples:

With the present subjunctive:

Parece que tenga alguna enfermedad. Está tan pálido...

It looks like he may have some kind of illness. He is so pale...

I would say that using the present subjunctive here, instead of the indicative, is changing the meaning from "I think that...[I am certain that...]" to "It looks like..., He appears to..." .

With the imperfect subjunctive:

Parece que estuviera en las nubes todo el tiempo.

It is as though she was always in the clouds.

Here, with the imperfect subjunctive, we are actually expressing something that is not happening. 

Because of this flexibility with "parece que", I will delete that option from the question you came across. Although we tend to use it more with the meaning "I think that", this is not always the case, as you can see.

This deserves a specific lesson. We will publish it soon. 

I hope this helps.

Un saludo cordial

Inma

Parece que, why incorrect?

I am wondering why in the question "Which of the following expressions are followed by the subjunctive?" the option "Parece que" was marked as incorrect? There is no any information about it in the explanation. However it is followed by the subjunctive, isn't it?

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WylieB2Kwiziq community member

use of expressions of doubt

Hi Silvia. The phrase "expression of doubt" (I paraphrase) and the way it is used here seem ambiguous. How is it that according to the tests "creemos que" and "piensan que" don't express doubt; to me, since they don't express certainty, there is doubt. Likewise, how is it that "es impossible que" is followed by the subjunctive, when it expresses certainty that something is not possible. Please clarify. Thanks.

Asked 1 week ago
InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Wylie

I can see how this one is confusing because the first thing that comes to our mind is that "it is impossible that..." conveys "certainty", although a "negative certainty", but certainty. This thinking would justify the indicative, not the subjunctive. However, in a Spanish mind, this phrase: "Es imposible que..." could also convey "I doubt very much that...", therefore we consider it more of a "strong doubt", triggering the subjunctive. 

Plus, it is good to also think about the structures "ser + adjective + que " which are also followed by the subjunctive (unless they clearly convey a total certainty, e.g. "es cierto que...", "es verdad que..." )

This phrase fits with this theory, "es imposible que..." 

I hope this helps,

Inma

use of expressions of doubt

Hi Silvia. The phrase "expression of doubt" (I paraphrase) and the way it is used here seem ambiguous. How is it that according to the tests "creemos que" and "piensan que" don't express doubt; to me, since they don't express certainty, there is doubt. Likewise, how is it that "es impossible que" is followed by the subjunctive, when it expresses certainty that something is not possible. Please clarify. Thanks.

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RalphC1Kwiziq community member

In the dictionary that give the definition of temer as to be afraid. I don't see anything about being suspect.

Asked 7 months ago
InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Ralph

If you check here, you can see that Temer can mean "to suspect" (sospechar) as well.

 

Un saludo

Inma

 

In the dictionary that give the definition of temer as to be afraid. I don't see anything about being suspect.

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Kristen B1Kwiziq community member

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?

Asked 1 year ago
InmaKwiziq team member

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

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?

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SteveC1Kwiziq community member

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?
Asked 1 year ago
InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Steve

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

Thanks for your query.

Saludos

Inma

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?

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JonathanC1Kwiziq community member

Parece que

Asked 1 year ago
InmaKwiziq team member

Hi Jonathan

What is your doubt with "Parece que"?

Inma

Parece que

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