In Déjame Que Te Cuente by Jorge Bucay, why would the subjunctive be used when he says "haya tardado"?

-Sí, claro. ¿Qué te ha pasado? ¿Por qué has tardado tanto? ¿Te has perdido?

-No, no es que haya tardado. No he querido llamar al timbre para no molestar, por si estaba atendiendo a alguien...

Can any event that didn't happen use subjunctive and would the meaning be identical if the indicative was used?

I found another example where an event that didn't happen uses the subjunctive (from Historia de un Gaviota by Luis Sepúlveda): "En ninguna parte está escrito que los gatos entren gratis."

2 Answers 2


When you say es que…, you are stating a reality: the action he tardado actually happened. On the other hand, when you say no es que…, you are now stating something to not be the case, and the action haya tardado is not a true statement.

You could use indicative by simply moving the negative to the subordinate clause: es que no he tardado (now we state the reality that we were not late), but obviously that doesn't quite work in the context of the conversation.

  • It seems weird to me because the event definitely didn't happen. Usually it seems like the subjunctive is used when there is a hypothetical situation being imagined under alternate conditions. Not telling someone something wasn't the case. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 15:59
  • "Por qué no haya usado Bucay el modo indicativo en este caso?". Would that not seem odd to native speakers because he definitely did not use the indicative... Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:02
  • @user135711 ¿Por qué no haya usado Bucay el modo indicativo en este caso? is incorrect, because it is not a subordinate, you must use indicative in this case.
    – greuze
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:08
  • I don't find anything odd about the construction. I could have equally said: No, no es que tardé (my dialect tends to use simple rather than compound tenses). Or simply No tardé, with some emphasis on the verb so as to focus on the fact that tardar is precisely not what I did.
    – pablodf76
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:09
  • There are many uses for subjunctive, not all of them are for hypothetical situations. You could simple state "I didn't arrive late" by saying "no he tardado". Prefixing with "es que no he tardado" just explains that the reality is X. X is guaranteed true. When we say "No es que X", X is quite the opposite: it's guaranteed to be false, despite not having a negative in it. The opposite happens with the verb "dudar". "Dudo que X" means X likely isn't true (and uses subj), but "No dudo que X" means X is true (and uses ind) Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:11

In subordinate sentences with main sentence being impersonal:

  • if the main sentence is affirmative, the subordinate sentence must be indicative
  • if the main sentence is negative or interrogative, the subordinate sentence must be subjunctive.


Es cierto que tengo un buen trabajo

No es cierto que tenga un buen trabajo

  • Here, there is a specific grammar rule being used. The subject of the subordinate clause doesn't exist. That rule doesn't apply in my example though... Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:12
  • @user135711 I'm not sure of your comment, no es que haya tardado has yo as elliptic subject, it is the same as no es que yo haya tardado, but the subject is usually omitted.
    – greuze
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:25
  • What I mean is the grammar rule you cite applies when the subject doesn't actually exist. Here, the subject does exist so that rule doesn't apply. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:30
  • @user135711 Sorry about my English, I update the answer trying to be more clear
    – greuze
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 17:07
  • 2
    +1 The first step is to understand that "no es que " equals "no es verdad que" or "no es cierto que". And, yes,the main sentence "No es (verdad) que..." is impersonal. The rules are quite complicated, though hispanoteca.eu/Foro-preguntas/ARCHIVO-Foro/…
    – leonbloy
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 20:03

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