Expressing possibility in Spanish is not a simple matter for our students on We love speculating, dreaming of being a millionaire, or just wondering what people is doing.

There is a wide variety of options, depending on the degree of certainty and the time when we delimit the actions. We can use the indicative or the subjunctive in different tenses (es posible que vaya a tu casa mañana; quizá iré por la tarde). However, there are some tenses that can be displaced from their logical time, in order to express possibility or probability. That’s the case we’re going to explain today.

A possibility in the present using the future

Using the future to introduce a present action? It’s paradoxical but real. We must consider two concepts to understand this usage: hecho (fact) and posibilidad (possibility). Which tense do we use to express habits or frequent actions? Presente de indicativo (present simple), of course. We express facts with this tense. But expressing possibility in Spanish can be done with the futuro simple (future simple).



Habits and frequent actions

Hechos Presente indicativoMi hermano aprende español todos los días

Posibilidad Futuro simpleQuizá mi hermano aprenderá español todos los días.

On the other hand, if we introduce an action happening while we are speaking, we use the present progressive (estar + gerundio). Nevertheless, if it’s not a fact, but a speculation, we can use the future progressive (future of estar + gerundio).

Actions at the moment of speaking

HechosPresente progresivoMi hermano está aprendiendo español ahora mismo.

Posibilidad → Futuro progresivoPosiblemente mi hermano estará aprendiendo español ahora mismo.

Probabilities in the past using the future

If we need to express an action that happened in the past but at a period of time that has not finished yet (today, this week, this year or in your whole life) we use the pretérito perfecto (present perfect). However, if we want to say the same but not as a fact but as a probability we can use the futuro perfecto (future perfect).

Past action at an unfinished period of time

HechosPretérito perfectoMi hermano ha aprendido español esta semana.

PosibilidadFuturo perfectoA lo mejor mi hermano habrá aprendido español esta semana.

A possibility in the past using the conditional

Maybe English speakers are more used to understand the use of conditional tenses to express past actions. In spite of that, the Spanish usage is very different. If you express an actual action in a past period of time that is finished (yesterday, last year, in 2010…) we can use the pretérito indefinido or pretérito imperfecto (for past habits). On the contrary, if we express past probabilities, we can use the condicional simple (conditional simple).

Past action at a finished period of time

HechosPretérito indefinidoMi hermano aprendió español en la universidad.

Posibilidad Condicional simpleProbablemente mi hermano aprendería español en la universidad.

Furthermore, if we need to say a past action that happened before another past action, we usually use the pretérito pluscuamperfecto (past perfect). Well, if it’s a possibility, we can express it using the condicional perfecto (conditional perfect).

Past action before another past action

HechosPretérito pluscuamperfectoMi hermano había aprendido español antes que francés.

PosibilidadFuturo progresivoQuizá mi hermano habría aprendido español antes que francés.

As Albert Einstein said: ‘el tiempo es relativo’. Grammatically, this statement is true. On, we suppose that you habrás probado many types of Spanish courses, and maybe you te estarás sintiendo frustrated right now. Don’t worry, try our Spanish for different levels course and change your possibilities into facts.