French Lessons

Topics

To Doubt or Not to Doubt

In the latest episode of Le Jour où tout a basculé, Sarah receives some troubling news from her son Nino that could put her job in jeopardy:

 

Sarah ne se doute pas un instant de la tournure des évènements.
Sarah doesn't suspect for a moment the turn of events. 
Cap. 2-3, Le Jour où tout a basculé: J'ai volé pour nourrir mon fils - Part 6

 

The verb douter looks a lot like the English verb "to doubt," and indeed, the two are exact cognates: 

 

Et puis, je commençais aussi à douter.
And then, I also began to doubt.
Cap. 26, Le Jour où tout a basculé: À la recherche de mon père - Part 3

 

But se douter, the reflexive form of douter, doesn't mean "to doubt oneself," as you might expect. Instead, it means "to suspect" or "to guess": 

 

Mais il ne se doute pas qu'à sa place va se présenter Edna, la complice de Louise.
But little does he know [he doesn't suspect] that in her place will be Edna, Louise's accomplice.
Cap. 63-65, Le Jour où tout a basculé: Mes grands-parents sont infidèles - Part 4

 

If you're really certain about something, you can use the phrase se douter bien:

 

Avec un regard comme celui-là, on se doute bien qu'il a dû en voir.
With a look like this, one might well guess that he must have seen a lot.
Cap. 1, Le Journal: Le photographe Cartier-Bresson

 

Je me doute bien qu'il sait comment cuisiner.
I'm sure he knows how to cook.

 

Both douter and se douter can be followed by de or que. (Se) douter de always comes before a noun (as in Sarah ne se doute pas un instant de la tournure des évènements), while (se) douter que always comes before an independent clause (as in je me doute bien qu'il sait comment cuisiner).

 

But douter and se douter differ in another important way besides their meaning. While se douter que always takes the indicative mood (since it expresses a certainty or near certainty), douter que can take the indicative or the subjunctive depending on context. In general, douter que takes the subjunctive in the affirmative and the indicative in the negative: 

 

Je doute qu'il sache comment cuisiner.
I doubt he knows how to cook.

 

Je ne doute pas qu'elle sait la meilleure façon d'y arriver.   
I don't doubt she knows the best way to get there.

 

As you may recall, the subjunctive is used to express a wish, uncertainty, or doubt. So if you're saying you don't doubt something, it makes sense that you would use the indicative rather than the subjunctive in that case. 

 

We'll be back with a new lesson soon, sans aucun doute (without a doubt)!

Vocabulary

You May Also Like