Spanish Grammar

How to express probability in Spanish

How to express probability in Spanish? Well,  you can use several expressions and some different verb tenses. In most cases we use the subjunctive mode afterwards, but there are cases where you can also use the indicative mode.

You have probably asked yourself many times how to express probability when you are talking about things that have happened, things that are happening or things that are going to happen. For all these cases we will see examples in our explanation.

To begin with, let’s create a context:

¿Sabes dónde está Lucas? Estoy llamando a su despacho y no contesta.

We can difference between expressions with different verbal tenses, using only indicative, only subjunctive and both of them. Let’s see them:

How to express probability in Spanish using different verbal tenses

FUTURO SIMPLE – Hypothesis in the present.

Estará comiendo, es su hora de descanso.

FUTURO COMPUESTO – Hypothesis about a finished action with consequences in the present.

Habrá ido al despacho del director.

CONDICIONAL SIMPLE – Hypothesis about the past.

In this case we cannot use it with the initial situation because it is always used for hypotheses about a past situation.

  • ¿Sabes qué le pasó ayer a Lucas? Estaba muy raro.
  • Pues no lo sé, supongo que le dolería la cabeza.

Now, it’s time to learn how to express probability in Spanish using the subjunctive:

Probabilities using only the subjunctive

Puede que…

Puede que esté comiendo con un cliente.

(No) es posible que…

Es posible que haya salido a comprar algo.

(No) es probable que…

Es probable que tenga una reunión.

Expressions with indicative and subjunctive

Tal vez…

No contesta. Tal vez tiene otra llamada.

No contesta. Tal vez tenga otra llamada.

Quizás…

Quizás ha ido al cuarto de baño.

Quizás haya ido al cuarto de baño.

Posiblemente…

Posiblemente está hablando con Marisa.

Posiblemente esté hablando con Marisa.

Probablemente…

Probablemente tiene algo urgente que no le permite contestar al teléfono.

Probablemente tenga algo urgente que no le permita contestar al teléfono.

Seguramente…

Seguramente está dormido, es un irresponsable.

Seguramente esté dormido, es un irresponsable.

I suppose you are wondering how do I know if I have to use indicative or subjunctive in previous situations where both modes are possible? Well, the idea is that we use indicative when we believe that it is closer to reality, that we can reach that logical conclusion or justify our thinking. For example, imagine that you have to describe an image in an exam. In the image you clearly see a hospital waiting room and some people waiting. In that case, we can make a phrase like the following talking about that people:

Probablemente están esperando su turno para entrar en la consulta del médico.

In the same way, without having more information about those same people:

Probablemente sean hermanos.

How to express probability in Spanish using only indicative

These are expressions typical of oral language, more colloquial, we do not usually use them so much in written language.

Igual…

Igual ha salido.

Lo mismo…

Lo mismo está en otro despacho.

A lo mejor…

A lo mejor hoy no ha venido.

In all the previous examples in which we have needed to use the subjunctive we have used the subjunctive present because it was about probability on a present fact. Now let’s see correspondences in other cases.

Express probability in the past:

  • Anoche en la calle había muchísima basura.

  • Es probable que se rompiera algún contenedor de basura.

Express probability about the future:

Es posible que vayamos a Suiza las próximas Navidades.

Tal vez haga el examen DELE para obtener la nacionalidad española.

Now, it’s your turn to show how to express probability in Spanish. Leave your comments below writing some examples.