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My teacher showed my class a sentence and asked us to conjugate the verb correctly:

No conozco a un chico que [estudiar] español.

I thought that the verb should be conjugated in the indicative (estudia) because it is a fact that 'I do not know such a child.'

However, my teacher insists that it should be in the subjunctive: estudie. She is the teacher, so I assume she is right, but could anyone please explain why?

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The correct sentence is:

No conozco a un chico que estudie español.

This is because you use the negation (No conozco)

Note: People usually say:

No conozco a ningún chico que estudie español.

If you want to use the affirmative you need to use the indicative:

Conozco un chico que estudia español.

Why:

Usamos el subjuntivo en clausulas subordinadas también cuando la clausula principal expresa una duda. Las dudas expresan ambigüedad y por eso, no podemos usar el indicativo. La negación también requiere el subjuntivo en la clausula subordinada.

Example:

    • Dudo que Camilo padezca de artritis.
    • I doubt that Camilo suffers from arthritis.
    • No creo que el médico sepa el diagnóstico.
    • I don’t believe that the doctor knows the diagnosis.

Los verbos de percepción física o mental en oraciones afirmativas usan indicativo; en las negativas, indicativo o subjuntivo. En oraciones negativas, el indicativo hace referencia al compromiso del hablante con la verdad de la oración subordinada, mientras que con el subjuntivo no hay este compromiso.

Entre estos verbos introductores están: averiguar, comprobar, criticar, darse cuenta de, entender, escuchar, fijarse en, garantizar, informar de, mirar, notar, oír, percibir, prever, recordar, saber, sentir, soñar, suponer, ver, verificar.

Reference:

El subjuntivo para las dudas y la negación

Reglas de español

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  • I am a little confused. If the original sentence had been "No conozco al* chico que [estudiar] español", then estudia would have been correct, though it is a negative sentence – user13560 Oct 7 '16 at 8:24
  • @user13560 He adicionado información nueva a la respuesta y otra referencia, puede leerla y encontrar varios ejemplos en ella. – Adrian Cid Almaguer Oct 7 '16 at 14:04
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    The final "l" in the word "al" is key to the whole meaning of the sentence. This clarifies that you are speaking of one person in particular, and now the subrodinate clause serves to identify which person, namely the one that studies Spanish. Indicative is right in this case. – Walter Mitty Oct 9 '16 at 13:35
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    The other answers were dealing with a slightly different case. More like "I don't know any person that studies Spanish". In this case, the "that studies Spanish" defines a set of people, a set that could be empty in the current context. For that reason, the rules about negatives and subjunctive apply, and those answers are correct for the case they address. – Walter Mitty Oct 9 '16 at 13:38
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It's "estudie". 100% sure. You can also say "esté estudiando".

You can always take a look at the DPD. Entry for "que":

2.1. Introduce oraciones subordinadas sustantivas en función de sujeto: «No le gusta que su mujer trabaje» (Hoy [Chile] 11-17.7.84); de complemento directo: «¡Yo no quiero que te vayas!» (Santiago Sueño [P. Rico 1996]); y de término de preposición, en secuencias que funcionan como complemento de un sustantivo o de un adjetivo, o como complemento de régimen de un verbo: «Despertó su temor el hecho de que la tía Julia fuera boliviana» (VLlosa Tía [Perú 1977]); «Estoy segura de que lo lograrás» (O’Donnell Vincent [Arg. 1982]); «Gregorio insistió en que no necesitaba absolutamente nada» (Padilla Jardín [Cuba 1981]).

http://lema.rae.es/dpd/srv/search?id=2VAvJgr6tD6bMa8swW

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    Your answer is correct, but the cited entry doesn't actually explain why subjunctive is needed instead of the indicative. Note that if you switch to the affirmative, you use indicative: Conozco a un chico que estudia español – user0721090601 Oct 6 '16 at 15:04
  • I know, it was just an example. It actually explains the kind of phrases that can go after "que". Some of them use subjuntive. – Sergio Tx Oct 6 '16 at 15:42
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Good answers, but there is an additional subtlety that is worth illustrating, with this sentence:

  • No conozco a un chico que estudia español.

This sentence means that there is some specific boy that you don't know (haven't met), who studies Spanish. And the a in no conozco a un chico is strongly required if not obligatory in that case—it's called the "specific indefinite" in linguistics if memory serves me right. And that sentence uses indicative because it's not hypothetical at all.

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