12.3 The Future of Probability

Spanish commonly uses the future tense to indicate probability or conjecture in the present moment. This is another non-systemic use of verbs and it is very important to recognize, to avoid missing the intended meaning. It is worthwhile to begin to be aware of this concept now, as Spanish uses three other tenses non-systemically to refer to probability or conjecture. Note the varying possibilities of the English translation:

¿Dónde estará Juan?  


Where can Juan be?

Where do you think Juan is?

I wonder where Juan is.

¿Qué hora será?  


What time can it be?

What time do you think it is?

I wonder what time it is?

Remember: future tense + probability = present meaning.

You will be reading in a context, which should clarify the meaning. Some sentences, out of context, are ambiguous:

Future meaning:

Future of probability (refers to present):

Volverán al parque. They will return to the park. They will return to the park./ They must be returning to the park.

As in the last example, at times the insertion of the word “probably” is sufficient to translate the meaning in the present tense.

¡Ojo!  There is no special way of indicating probability in the future time frame. In such cases a word such as probablemente is normally inserted.

Another way of indicating probability -in various tenses- is deber de + infinitive.

Debe de estar perdida. She must be (probably is) lost.
Debió de hacerlo ayer. He probably did (must have done) it yesterday.
Debían de salir tarde. They must have left (probably left) late.

In recent years, however, the de is sometimes omitted, creating ambiguity, due to the meaning of deber when referring to obligation:

Debe estudiarlo. He must be studying it. (probability)

He ought to study it. (obligation)

Vocabulario básico


aislar- to isolate
aprobar (ue)- to pass (exam), to approve
cumplir- to fulfill; to accomplish


el apellido- surname
el apodo- nickname
el intento- attempt (false friend)


derechista- rightist, right-wing
izquierdista- leftist, left-wing
tal- such, such a


cumplir años- to have a birthday
es difícil que- is unlikely that (versus: es difícil- it’s difficult/hard)
es fácil que- it’s likely that (versus: es fácil- it’s easy)
estar a cargo (de)- to be in charge (of)

Last revised on June 25, 2021.