Using the Subjunctive to Express Doubt

The subjunctive mood is used to describe situations that have not yet occured or are not objectively real. In this lesson, we are looking at how using a first verb expressing doubt or disbelief that a second action occurs, automatically triggers the subjunctive form in the second verb.

Study the following:

  • We doubt that you are good.  Dudamos que seas bueno.
    I do not believe you are studying.  No creo que estés estudiando.


Notice that in the above examples, one individual or group is transferring their doubt or disbelief onto another individual or group. Also note that que follows the subjunctive "trigger" word.

Here's a list of words that can "trigger" the subjunctive when used in the above fashion:

  • dudar que --  to doubt that
    es dudoso que --  it is doubtful that
    es improbable que -- it's unlikely that
    es incierto que -- it's uncertain that
    es posible que -- it's possible that
    no creer que -- not to believe that
    es increíble que --  it's incredible that
    no es cierto que -- it's not certain that
    no es verdad que --  it's not true that
    es incierto que --  it's untrue that
    es mentira que --  it's a lie that
    no estar convencido de que -- to not be convinced that
    no estar seguro de que -- to not be sure that
    no parecer que -- to not seem that
    no pensar que -- to not think that
    no suponer que -- to not suppose that
    puede ser que -- it may be that
    negar que -- to deny that
    no imaginarse que -- to not imagine that
    temer que -- to suspect that


It helps to understand that the first verb is expressed in the indicative mood, which affirms a fact or states a reality. The second verb, however, describes an action which -- at the moment of the occurence of the first verb and in the mind of the speaker -- hasn't yet occured or doesn't exist, and so is expressed in the subjunctive mood.

Consider the following subjunctive sentences again and compare them with their indicative counterparts:

  • We doubt that he is a good student.  Dudamos que sea buen estudiante.
    We are sure that he is a good student.  Estamos seguros de que es buen estudiante.

    I don't believe you are studying everyday.  No creo que estés estudiando todos los días.
    I believe that you are studying everyday.  Creo que estás estudiando todos los días.


When talking about the subjunctive of doubt in the past, it helps to remember the rule stated above:

The indicative mood affirms a fact or states a reality. The subjunctive mood describes an action which --  at the moment of the occurence of the first verb and in the mind of the speaker -- hasn't yet occured or doesn't exist.


Let's look at our three model sentences, expressed in the past tense:

  • We doubted that you were good.  Dudábamos que fueras bueno.
    I did not believe you were studying.  No creía que estuvieras estudiando.

As you can see, the second verb describes an action in the past that, at the moment of the occurence of the first verb and in the mind of the speaker, had not yet happened. The fact that we are talking in this moment about events in the past does not imply that everything we talk about now actually happened or was real at the moment of the occurence of the first verb.


Although ruled by "trigger" words, it's important to remember that, above all, the subjunctive mood expresses the speaker's subjective view of a given event.


Some phrases are expressions of certainty, so will never take the subjunctive:

  • es cierto que -- it is certain that
    es claro que -- it is clear that
    es evidente que -- it is certain that
    es obvio que -- it is obvious that
    es verdad que -- it is true that


  • Es claro que estudias -- It's clear that you study
    Es obvio que eres bueno -- It's obvious that you are good

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