warningsign esperar que indicativo /subjuntivo

One of the very first problems that English-speaking learners encounter is that Spanish uses the same verb (esperar) for 'to hope', 'to wait' and 'to expect'.

The lyrics of a Shakira song are often used to illustrate this fact:
'Espero que no esperes que te espere' - 'I hope you don't expect me to wait for you'


The apparent lack of distinction between 'to hope that' and 'to expect that' can be frustrating. 


"1. Creer, saber, o tener confianza en que ocurrirá algo (generalmente favorable).

2. Desear o tener esperanza de que ocurra algo".1


To make matters worse, the discussion surrounding this issue is often ambiguous and, at times, contradictory.

Grammar books often suggest that esperar que+subjuntivo translates more as 'to hope that', while use of the indicative translates as 'to expect that'. 

"The use of indicative of these tenses suggests the meaning 'to expect':

Espero que le convenzas/convencerás - I hope/expect you'll convince him

Espero que me vas a pagar - I hope you are going to pay me "  - A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish2


Most dictionaries also show examples with the future tense, where esperar comes close to 'to expect':

"Esperar: Creer que algo bueno o conveniente que está anunciado o algo que se desea ocurrirá realmente: "Espero que vendrá puntualmente. Espero que mañana no lloverá". María Moliner3


The NGLE suggests that use of the indicative expresses a greater degree of confidence.4

"Espero que dará buenos resultados"

"Espero que sabrás apreciarlo"

"Espero que habrá podido recuperar"


And, indeed, use of the indicative after esperar que is not uncommon in literature.

 "Ahora que lo pienso, con tu libro Federico sabrá toda la verdad y comprenderá que le mentí. Espero que sabrá perdonarme". El último rojo, Julia Escobar Redondo

"Encantado de conocerla, señora Perry. Cuando escriba su artículo, espero que tendrá algunas buenas palabras sobre este antiguo abogado de oficio mal pagado". En defensa propia, Mary Higgins Clark




However, the fact is that in everyday spoken Spanish in Spain, use of the indicative after esperar que is practically non-existent.



So, with the indicative ruled out in everyday speech, how do we distinguish between the idea of 'expect' and 'hope'

As usual, context is crucial:


1. In negative sentences, when no comes before esperar, it usually translates as 'to expect', since we don't usually say 'I don't hope that'; when no follows the verb it should logically translate as 'to hope' in most contexts.

-No esperaba verte hoy — I didn't expect to see you today (I didn't hope to see you??)

-No espero que venga — I don't expect him to come (I don't hope he comes??)

-Espero que no venga — I hope he doesn't come


2. When it refers to something undesirable, it probably translates as 'to expect', given we don't tend to hope for unwanted things except, of course, when wishing something bad upon someone.

-Esperamos que el niño muera dentro de una semana— We expect the child will die / to die within a week

-Los expertos esperan que la crisis dure otros diez años — Experts expect the crisis to last another ten years

-Espero que mueras lentamente — I hope you die slowly


3. In some contexts 'to hope' and 'to expect' are actually very close in meaning, changing only the perceived likelihood especially when it is the same subject followed by the infinitive. 

-Esperan llegar mañana — They expect/hope to arrive tomorrow [They think it's likely]

-Espero poder ayudarte mañana — I hope/expect to be able to help you tomorrow [I think it's likely]

-Esperamos terminar esto pronto — We expect/hope to finish this soon [They think it's likely]


4. There are times, though, where we consider it necessary to differentiate between a wish and a belief. In this case we have a few options:

a) Change the verb or add an adverb/conjunction.

-I hope he passes the exam — Ojalá apruebe el examen [I want him to pass, but I don't necessarily think it's likely]

→I expect him to pass the exam — Creo que va a aprobar/confío en que va a aprobar [I think he will pass]


-I expected him to do that — Me imaginaba que iba a hacer eso [I thought it was likely he would]

→I hoped he would do that — Deseaba que hiciera eso


-I hope they come, but I don't expect they will — Espero que vengan, pero me imagino que no lo harán


b) Use the noun esperanza or expectativa to clarify:

-I hope they come, but I don't really expect them to — Espero que vengan, pero no tengo grandes expectativas de que lo hagan


-I hope he passes, but I don't expect he will —  Tengo la esperanza de que apruebe el examen, pero no creo que lo consiga


As discussed previously, confiar en que is often followed by the indicative and is a good option for something we expect and hope will happen. When followed by the subjunctive, it can be translated as 'to hope'.

-Confío en que va a aprobar — I expect him to pass / I trust he'll pass 

→Confiemos en que apruebe — Let's hope he passes


Esperar a que always take the subjunctive, and it nearly always translates as 'to wait for.5

-Yo esperaba a que llamaran — I was waiting for them to call

-Estoy esperando a que vengan — I'm waiting for them to come


Finally, when esperar is used to talk about what awaits or is in store for somebody, the person takes the indirect object pronoun le (el dativo) rather than lo/la.5

-Lo estuve esperando en la estación — I was waiting for him at the station

-No sabe lo que le espera — He doesn't know what's in store for him

-Le espera una vida dura (a ella) — A hard life awaits her

-esperar que indicativo o subjuntivo-