Perhaps I am overlooking the obvious, but I cannot find an answer to this question: if the subjunctive is used to express uncertainty, why is every question in Spanish not in the subjunctive, as the uncertainty is inherent until the question is answered?

  • Actually, I think the way, we spaniards, compose Questions... and it completely relies on your intonation XD, the subjunctive, as @guifa sais, is rarely used nowadays. – Raistmaj Apr 14 '15 at 18:34

The subjunctive is used in modern Spanish virtually exclusively in subordinate clauses.1 For this reason, the main clause of any question is in the indicative.

However, what you're thinking about does come into play with certain types of questions where subjunctive would not be allowed in the declarative counterpart:

  • ¿Crees que exista Dios?
    — Sí, creo que existe.
    — No, no creo que exista.

This is because at the moment of uttering, we don't yet know whether you believe it or not. Now, compare this to a similar question

  • ¿Crees que existe Dios?

The difference is that we're not asking if you do or do not believe in God, so much as questioning the whole statement and analogous to English's "You believe in God?" (compared to the first one that is the more canonical "Do you believe in God?").

1. In the Spanish of not that long ago, the subjunctive could be used much more freely on its own. Nowadays, that use is almost entirely relegated to exhortative commands (¡Coma Vd.!, ¡Comamos!) and all other uses are generally preceded with a que: que sea fácil el exámen which emphasizes the subordinate structure, versus older sea fácil el exámen.

  • This is great stuff. Can anyone suggest more places to learn about subjunctive? It is a real challenge for us native English speakers since we don't have an equivalent to the subjunctive (that I know of). – Chuck Krutsinger Apr 14 '15 at 20:13
  • @ChuckKrutsinger If I were you (see what I did there?), I'd go with the basic rules and then pay very close attention to what native speakers use. It's difficult to lay out every single situation in which you'd use it because the time frame (past vs present), sentence type (interrogative vs declarative) and verb meaning (decir=contar vs decir=mandar) can affect usage. Be that (see what I did there?) as it may, once you start seeing enough situations that catch your attention as not following the base-line rules, you can begin internalizing the concept, which is ultimately easier than rules. – user0721090601 Apr 15 '15 at 1:34
  • Yes, I see what you did. That use of subjunctive I think I have a grasp on, e.g. si fuera posible... The more challenging usage for me is remembering to use it when in doubt, when trying to influence, and other situations where I don't think we have such a thing in English. – Chuck Krutsinger Apr 15 '15 at 16:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.