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My understanding of Spanish grammar from studying Spinelli and Kendris’ 500 Spanish Verbs is that the subjunctive mood is required when 1) the subject changes between clauses and 2) one of the clauses contains an expression that is contrary-to-fact. There are other reasons that require the subjunctive but my questions concern the two reasons I’ve stated.

This English sentence,

“There is nothing in that report that I had not already known.”

I believe, can be expressed in Spanish in either of these two ways:

«No hay nada en ese informe que no había supiera ya.»

«No hay nada en ese informe que no había sabido ya.»

In these examples, No hay nada is contrary to fact and nada, the subject of the first clause is different from the implied subject, yo, of the second. Thus, one might say there are two reasons to use the subjunctive.

The first Spanish sentence uses the imperfect subjunctive of saber with the past perfect indicative of haber, while the second uses that same auxiliary verb with the past participle of saber.

With only supiera, as in:

«No hay nada en ese informe que no supiera ya.»

Which I believe in English is:

“There is nothing in that report that I did not already know.”

There doesn’t seem to me to be any difference in the two English sentences as to nothing in the report was unknown to the speaker before he examined the report, or said another way, he knew everything that was in the report before he read it, but perhaps there are subtle differences in the three Spanish versions? Which is correct, and why? Or, perhaps none is correct, and if so, how are these English sentences best expressed in Spanish?

  • I think you mean, for the first quote «No hay nada en ese informe que no haya/hubiera sabido ya.» – brazofuerte Jan 21 '19 at 0:07
  • No, not exactly. haya would render as have and hubiera would render as would. Neither are what I intend. Please explain why you believe your Spanish is more correct? – perlboy Jan 21 '19 at 0:20
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    "había supiera" isn't grammatical - saber needs to be conjugated as the past participle in this construction. Generally in Spanish verb phrases, only a single verb is conjugated - any others have to occur in an impersonal form (i.e. the past participle, gerund, or infinitive). As for why I gave two options - hubiera is a more direct translation of 'had', but I included haya because it might be more idiomatic. Note: hubiera does not translate to would. In fact, there is no 1-1 word for 'would' in Spanish, to achieve that you conjugate in the conditional. – brazofuerte Jan 21 '19 at 0:57
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I'm not a native speaker of English, but I find the use of the past perfect in “There is nothing in that report that I had not already known” very strange, since a past perfect verb is usually employed with reference to another verb in the simple past. Maybe you can clear that up, but anyway this is a question about Spanish and what you're trying to express seems clear enough.

If the speaker has not yet examined the report but already knows what it contains, s/he could say:

No hay nada en ese informe que yo no sepa ya.

Here the verb in the subordinate clause, sepa, is in the subjunctive mood, present tense, agreeing with the main verb, hay. Everything is present tense because things are now in the report and the speaker wants to express his/her current knowledge of those things.

If the speaker has already examined the report and confirmed his/her suspicion that it contains nothing new, s/he can shift the whole sentence to the past:

No había nada en ese informe que yo no supiera ya.

This emphasizes the (past) fact that the report has been examined. Implicitly it tells the hearer that the speaker has picked up the report, read it, closed it and left it again where it was.

But the main verb can remain in the present even in this case; it's just a subtle change of focus:

No hay nada en ese informe que yo no supiera ya.

Because the subordinate verb is in the past tense, the implication is that the report has already been examined by the speaker, but the speaker chooses to focus on his/her foreknowledge of the report, instead of on the fact that s/he has already read it.

You could conceivably say

No había nada en ese informe que yo no hubiera sabido ya.

but this sounds a bit awkward and unnatural.

| improve this answer | |
  • English writers are advised not to shift tense between clauses unless there is a compelling reason to do so. So, either “There is nothing . . . that I do not know,” or “There was nothing . . . that I had not known” are both consistent with that rule. In this case, “There is nothing . . . that I had not already known,” the speaker is saying to the receiver, “I knew all these things about you, that we are currently discussing, that were in that report about you before I received a copy of the report.” In English as in Spanish, that refers to an object closer to the receiver. – perlboy Jan 21 '19 at 18:01
  • Google translate is not the absolute authority on translations, and those of us who use it are occasionally mislead. For example, Google renders que yo no hubiera sabido ya, as: “that I would not have known already.” Would, in English, refers to something that is contrary-to-fact, which is totally wrong in my original example. It implies the reader would have known something if something else had happened. Span¡shD!ct renders the translation as: “that I had not already known,” which was what I intended. I don’t want to come anywhere near would in this example. – perlboy Jan 21 '19 at 18:21
  • Both respondents were very helpful and I thank you both. Google translate led me astray, with would. I am a Spanish learner, using Spinelli, Madrigal and Kendris, plus two Larousse dictionaries and The New World dictionary and now Span¡shD!ct, and I use(d) Google translate to test my understanding. Why? Because it has a very efficient user interface and I thought, with all its resources it would be accurate. It is not helpful to a learner when the translator makes relatively basic mistakes. Brute force and word-for-word translation are not what they're cracked up to be. – perlboy Jan 22 '19 at 0:37
  • @perlboy - I think you mean "are occasionally misled." (Common mistake!) – aparente001 Apr 29 '19 at 12:05
  • @perlboy - sometimes "hubiera" does get expressed as "would" in English. If I start with "There was nothing in the report that I wouldn't have already known if you had brought it to me when it was published" and express that in Spanish, it comes out as "No había nada en el informe que yo no hubiera sabido ya, si me lo hubieras dado cuando se publicó." I hope this doesn't confuse things for you. Pablo's answer is excellent. – aparente001 Apr 29 '19 at 12:20
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I was writing a comment to add to Pablo's explanation but, as it was too long, I decided to turn it into an answer.

I agree with @pablodf76 on all counts.

In addition to what he clearly explained, I think the reason for the awkwardness of No había nada en ese informe que yo no hubiera sabido ya is similar to the awkwarness of "had known" in There was nothing in that report that I had not already known. I think in both cases the past simple would be preferred in the subordinate clause because the verb "know" (just as "saber") is usually stative and durative, as opposed to "get to know" or "learn" ("enterarse" in Spanish), which suggests a more punctual action that would take us to that previous moment and make the past perfect justifiable. Compare:

  • No había nada en ese informe que yo no supiera ya. (I knew everything the report said.)

(In English: There was nothing in that report that I did not already know.)

  • No había nada en ese informe de lo que yo ya no me hubiera enterado. (I had learnt/got to know everything the report said.)

(In English: There was nothing in that report that I had not already discovered/learnt about.)

| improve this answer | |
  • I think "come to know" works better than "get to know" for enterarse. – aparente001 Apr 29 '19 at 12:09

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