What is the conditional?
The conditional - Easy Learning Grammar French
The conditional is a verb form used to talk about things that would happen or that would be true under certain conditions, for example, I would help you if I could.
It is also used to say what you would like or need, for example, Could you give me the bill?
1 Using the conditional
- You can often recognize a conditional in English by the word would or its shortened form ’d.
- I would be sad if you left.
- If you asked him, he’d help you.
- You use the conditional for:
- asking for something formally and politely, especially in shops
- I’d like a kilo of pears, please.
- saying what you would like
- I’d like to go to the United States.
- making a suggestion
- I could come and pick you up.
- giving advice
- You should say you’re sorry.
TipThere is no direct French translation of would in verb forms like would be, would like, would help and so on. You change the French verb ending instead.
2 Forming the conditional
- To form the conditional in French, you have to use:
- the infinitive of -er and -ir verbs, for example, donner-, finir-
- the infinitive without the final e of -re verbs, for example, attendr-
- Then add the correct ending to the stem, depending on whether you are talking about je, tu, il, elle, on, nous, vous, ils or elles. The endings are the same for all verbs. In fact, they are the same as the -er and -re endings for the IMPERFECT TENSE, but the stem is the same as the FUTURE TENSE.
- For more information on the Imperfect tense and the Future tense, see The imperfect tense and The future tense.
|Pronoun||Ending||Add to stem, e.g. donner-, finir-, attendr-||Meanings|
|je (j’)||-ais||je donnerais|
|I would give|
I would finish
I would wait
|you would give|
you would finish
you would wait
|he/she/it/one would give|
he/she/it/one would finish
he/she/it/one would wait
|we would give|
we would finish
we would wait
|you would give|
you would finish
you would wait
|they would give|
they would finish
they would wait
|J’aimerais aller aux États-Unis.||I’d like to go to the United States.|
Tipje changes to j’ in front of a word starting with a vowel, most words starting with h, and the French word y.
- Note that you have to be careful not to mix up the future tense and the conditional. They look very similar.
|je donnerai||je donnerais|
|je finirai||je finirais|
|je voudrai||je voudrais|
|je viendrai||je viendrais|
|je serai||je serais|
3 Spelling changes in -er verbs
- As with the future tense, a few -er verbs change their spellings slightly in the conditional. The forms with spelling changes have been underlined in the tables below.
- With verbs such as appeler (meaning to call), which end in -eler, the l doubles throughout the conditional. The double consonant (ll) affects the pronunciation of the word. In appeler, the first e sounds like the vowel sound at the end of the English word teacher, but in appellerais the first e sounds like the one in the English word pet.
|Pronoun||Example verb: appeler|
- The exceptions to this rule are geler (meaning to freeze) and peler (meaning to peel), which change in the same way as lever (see The conditional).
- With verbs such as jeter (meaning to throw), which end in -eter, the t doubles throughout the conditional. The double consonant (tt) affects the pronunciation of the word. In jeter, the first e sounds like the vowel sound at the end of the English word teacher, but in jetterais the first e sounds like the one in the English word pet.
|Pronoun||Example verb: jeter|
- The exceptions to this rule include acheter (meaning to buy), which changes in the same way as lever (see The conditional).
- With verbs such as nettoyer (meaning to clean), that end in -yer, the y changes to i throughout the conditional.
|Pronoun||Example verb: nettoyer|
- Verbs ending in -ayer, such as payer (meaning to pay) and essayer (meaning to try), can be spelled with either a y or an i. So je paierais and je payerais, for example, are both correct.
- With verbs such as lever (meaning to raise), peser (meaning to weigh) and acheter (meaning to buy), e changes to è throughout the conditional. In lever the first e sounds like the vowel sound at the end of the English word teacher, but in lèverais and so on the first e sounds like the one in the English word pet.
|Pronoun||Example verb: lever|
4 Reflexive verbs in the conditional
- The conditional of reflexive verbs is formed in just the same way as for ordinary verbs, except that you have to remember to give the reflexive pronoun (me, te, se, nous, vous, se).
|Subject pronoun||Reflexive pronoun||Example with laver||Meaning|
|je||me (m’)||laverais||I would wash|
|tu||te (t’)||laverais||you would wash|
|se (s’)||laverait||he/she/it would wash|
|nous||nous||laverions||we would wash|
|vous||vous||laveriez||you would wash|
|se (s’)||laveraient||they would wash|
Tipme changes to m’, te to t’ and se to s’ before a vowel, most words starting with h and the French word y.
5 Irregular verbs in the conditional
- The same verbs that are irregular in the future tense are irregular in the conditional, including: avoir, être, faire, aller, devoir, pouvoir, savoir, tenir, venir, voir, vouloir.
- For more information on Irregular verbs in the future tense, see The future tense.
- To form the conditional of an irregular verb, use the same stem as for the future tense, for example:
- avoir → aur-
- être → ser-
- Then add the usual endings for the conditional.
|Infinitive||Future stem||Conditional endings||Conditional form|
|avoir||aur-||-ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient||j’aurais, tu aurais, il/elle/on aurait, nous aurions, vous auriez, ils/elles auraient|
|être||ser-||-ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient||je serais, tu serais, il/elle/on serait, nous serions, vous seriez, ils/elles seraient|
|faire||fer-||-ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient||je ferais, tu ferais, il/elle/on ferait, nous ferions, vous feriez, ils/elles feraient|
|aller||ir-||-ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient||j’irais, tu irais, il/elle/on irait, nous irions, vous iriez, ils/elles iraient|
|J’irais si j’avais le temps.||I would go if I had time.|
|Je voudrais un kilo de poires, s’il vous plaît.||I’d like a kilo of pears, please.|
|Tu devrais t’excuser.||You should say you’re sorry.|
- The conditional endings are the same for -er, -ir and -re verbs: -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient.
- The conditional endings are the same as the endings for the imperfect tense of -er and -re verbs, but the stem is the same as the stem of the future tense.
- In verbs ending in -eler and -eter:
l → ll and t → tt throughout the conditional.
- In verbs ending in -yer:
y → i throughout the conditional (optional in -ayer verbs).
- The same verbs that are irregular in the future are irregular in the conditional. It is worth learning these in full.