Ask Luís! (#7): Use of the present indicative vs. future subjunctive in relative clauses with quem

Hello, everyone! I hope you’re all having a nice week (:

Today’s question comes via Elaine in the United States:

Olá professor! Por favor, queria saber porque o JB (o jornal) não usou o futuro do conjuntivo na oração que começa com: “…enquanto luta contra quem quer (quiser?) expulsá-la de vez…”

«The New York Times comenta que uma sensação de impotência e indignação permeia o Palácio da Alvorada, a residência onde Dilma Rousseff, mesmo afastada é permitida de habitar enquanto luta contra quem quer expulsá-la de uma vez por todas

Agradeço desde já, Luís.

The answer will follow after the jump.

Hello, Elaine! I’ve made some changes to your original phrasing to reflect EP terminology (subjuntivo vs. conjuntivo for the verb mood); I hope you don’t mind it (:

Future subjunctive vs. Present indicative in relative sentences with quem

In the sentence you quoted, the verb querer is in the present indicative tense; in relative sentences with quem, it implies a certainty regarding the action been executed by the subject of the relative clause (here, quem, i.e., those who want to remove Dilma from office). In short, it means that this action is not in the realm of hypothesis – the process is already in motion (enquanto serves as a different marker of that continuous process) in the present, and events we’re certain about are marked using the indicative.

Any use of the future subjunctive after quem implies a hypothetical who we’re not sure exists (or that we believe exists, but are not totally sure of)[1]

  • Quem quiser um gelado pode vir buscá-lo. Whoever wants an ice cream [cone/cup/etc.] can come and get it. [We believe someone wants it, but we’re not certain: it’s up to them]
  • Eu vou lutar contra quem quiser expulsar-me. I will fight against whoever wants to kick me out. [hypothetical scenario, best conveyed using the adverb ending ever since it’s a generic who – if and when “they” want to kick me out, I’ll fight them]
  • Eu vou lutar contra quem quer expulsar-me. I will fight against those who want to kick me out. [real scenario; since the who is a clear, fully-formed group of people, those who is a more accurate translation].


To summarize: in a relative clause, quem + present indicative is used when we’re sure of the who is and what its intentions are; quem + future subjunctive is used when we’re not sure whether the who is or even if it exists, being an hypothetical scenario/conjecture we believe may be true, but can’t say with certainty.


P.S. General notes on the future subjunctive in other relative clauses

The future subjunctive implies uncertainty or possibility in the future:

  • Eu faço o que tu quiseres. I [will] do whatever you want [me to]. Here, fazer is a given, but we’re not sure what you wants from us just yet.
  • Eu vou viver como eu quiser. I will live [the way/how] I want to.
  • Sempre que precisarmos de ajuda, pedimos-te. [Whenever/Every time] we need help, we will ask you.

Please keep in mind that the present indicative in these main clauses is being used with a future sense (something which is more common in Portugal than in Brazil, as quite a few DL discussions show); we use it this way to show immediacy/constancy in the action, more so than the regular future (normal or with ir + infinitive, which are placed on the level of future events or future intent). On the first sentence, it shows that we will do something without fail (immediacy); on the third, that we plan on asking you for help everytime we need (constancy/correlation).

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