“I know that I know nothing”; with this phrase, Socrates, the Greek philosopher, paraphrased by Plato (Socrates never said that, literally) did not mean that he actually knew nothing. In fact, he meant that he had certeza (certainty) of nothing.
That legendary quote has its equivalent in our era: “you know nothing, Jon Snow”. This one was not said by a philosopher this time, but by a red-haired wilding woman: Ygritte to Jon Snow in George R. R. Martin novel, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, or the HBO series Game of Thrones. It doesn’t matter who or when they were pronounced. The fact is certainty does not exist.
How do we express uncertainty in Spanish, then? Keep reading and you’ll know… nothing.
Today we’re going to learn how some verbal tenses lose their primary use and they are able to express doubts or insecurities.
We can use conditional simple to introduce a probability in the past, in a finished time. If we are sure of it we should choose the indefinite preterite.
- Certain: – ¿Qué hizo ayer Donald Trump? – Dio un mitin en Nueva York, yo estuve allí (– What did Donald Trump do yesterday? – He gave a speech in New York, I was there).
- Uncertain: – ¿Qué hizo ayer Donald Trump? – No sé, quizá publicaría un tuit polémico (– What did Donald Trump do yesterday? – I don’t know, maybe he posted a controversial tweet).
We can use perfect future to introduce a probability in the past but in a non finished time. If we are sure of it we should choose the preterit perfect.
- Certain: El suelo está mojado, ha llovido; mira, todo el mundo lleva paraguas (the ground is wet, it rained. Look, everybody is carrying their umbrellas.).
- Uncertain: El suelo está mojado, habrá llovido, pero ¡qué raro!, hace sol. (the ground is wet, it might have rained, but how strange! It’s sunny).
We can use future continuous to introduce a probability in the present, at the same time we are speaking. If we are sure of it we should choose the present continuous.
- Certain: – ¿Dónde está tu hija? – Está escuchando música; ¿no lo oyes? (– Where is your daughter? – She’s listening to music; don’t you hear it?).
- Uncertain: – ¿Dónde está tu hija? – ¡Qué sé yo! Estará tonteando con su novio. (– Where is your daughter? – I don’t know. She might be fooling around with her boyfriend).
We can use future simple to introduce a probability in the present, a frequent action. If we are sure of it we should choose the present simple.
- Certain: – ¿Qué tiempo hace normalmente en Bilbao? – Llueve mucho; viví allí nueve años. (– What’s the weather like in Bilbao? – It often rains; I lived there for nine years).
- Uncertain: – ¿Qué tiempo hace normalmente en Bilbao? – Nunca he estado allí, pero digo yo que lloverá mucho, como está en el norte… (– What’s the weather like in Bilbao? – I’ve never been there, but I guess it rains a lot, because it’s in the North).
In conclusión, certainty or uncertainty, it doesn’t matter, Spanish has a very variable verbal system. If you want to control it like a native, no lo dudes (don’t hesitate) and reserve a free trial lesson via Skype with us. Solo sé que no sé nada, except one thing: you will succeed learning Spanish with us on www.spanishviaskype.com.