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I'm studying the present subjunctive, and it often appears to translate to two meanings in English. Sentences like this:

No hay nada que funcione. (Present subjunctive of functionar.)

can mean both these in English:

There is nothing that will work.
There is nothing that works.

Is that correct? If they are both possible, is a native speaker more likely to hear it as one or the other? Is there a good way to differentiate or emphasize one of the meanings? Maybe this:

No hay nada que vaya a funcionar. (Sort of like a future subjunctive.)
No hay nada que esté funcionando.

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  • Google, Apple, Bing are translating the "will work" sentence with "funcione". They can be wrong, but usually they're good with short sentences.
    – Rob N
    May 26, 2022 at 20:38
  • Ok, I have reconsidered all this in my answer. Please take a look at it. Thanks.
    – Lambie
    May 27, 2022 at 13:49

4 Answers 4

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I think the problem here is that the English equivalents are ambiguous. When we say nothing works we do not just mean that it is not working right now but we imply that it is unlikely to start working in the immediate future. Similarly when we say nothing will work we may also be implying that it is not working right now either (although that is less clear).

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Context and direction are everything. So going into Spanish, there's this:

There is nothing that will work. I've tried everything. No hay nada que funcione. will here is not a future. It implies other things have been tried.

OR
There is nothing that works. Everything is broken. No hay nada que funcione. This is just a statement of fact in English.

In English, the meanings are slightly different. But only subjunctive works in Spanish for both.

AND

There is nothing that will work tomorrow. The machines aren't ready. No hay nada que funcionará. That is a predictive idea. So, not subjunctive in Spanish.

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"No hay nada que funcione" refers to the present: "There is nothing that works / that is working".

I agree with Lambie that a possible translation is "There is nothing that will work", but here "will" does not indicate future but a typical behavior, as if the person does not expect anything to work because it has been like that for a long time.

To indicate future, we can use the periphrastic "ir a + infinitive", in which case the Spanish will be:

  • No hay nada que vaya a funcionar.

With this construction, the present subjunctive will only refer to the future if a future adverbial is explicit in the context, for example:

  • No hay nadie que venga mañana. (There's nobody that will come tomorrow / There's nobody coming tomorrow.)
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The present subjunctive expresses uncertainty, probability or feelings, and can deal with the present or the near future, but, we could say, in a dubious or subjective way.

Where the indicative mood is concrete and exact, everything related to the subjunctive mood is nonspecific, virtual, and kind of subjective.

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