French Conditional Tense

What is the French conditional tense?

The French conditional tense is used to express hypothetical (would) events. Usages also include polite requests and si clause sentences (if…then). The conditional is called “le conditionnel” and its endings are -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient (the imperfect endings).

Present conditional

To conjugate the present conditional (le présent du conditionnel), add the conditional ending to the infinitive, just as you would when forming the future tense. For regular -re verbs add the endings to the infinitive minus the final -e.

For verbs with irregular stems, add the conditional ending to the irregular stem.

Present conditional conjugations for regular verbs

PARLER TO SPEAK
je parlerais
tu parlerais
il parlerait
nous parlerions
vous parleriez
ils parleraient
FINIR TO FINISH
je finirais
tu finirais
il finirait
nous finirions
vous finiriez
ils finiraient
VENDRE TO SELL
je vendrais
tu vendrais
il vendrait
nous vendrions
vous vendriez
ils vendraient

Present conditional for common irregular verbs

The following verbs have irregular conditional stems which we have indicated in quotation marks.

  • aller (to go) -> “ir” -> j’arais (I would go)
  • avoir (to have) -> “aur” -> j’aurais (I would have)
  • devoir (must) -> “devr” -> je devrais (I should)
  • être (to be) -> “ser” -> je serai ( I would be)
  • faire (to make, do) “fer” -> je ferais (I would make, do)
  • falloir (to be necessary) “faudr” -> il faudra (It will be necessary)
  • pleuvoir (to rain) “pleuvr” -> il pleuvra (It will rain)
  • pouvoir (to be able, can) “pourr” -> je pourrais (I could)
  • savoir (to know) “saur” -> je saurais – (I would know)
  • tenir (to hold) “tiendr” -> je tienrais -> (I would hold)
  • venir (to come) “viendr” – >je viendrais -> (I would come)
  • voir (to see) “verr” -> je verrais (I would see)
  • vouloir (to want) “voudr” -> je voudrais (I would want)

Present conditional examples

The conditional has many uses including the expression of wishes and polite suggestions. The French also use it in journalism to mean ‘allegedly’ or reportedly.

Wishes or suggestions

The following example sentences of the present conditional are straight “would” sentences.

  • J’aimerais acheter une nouvelle maison. I’d like to buy a new house.
  • Ce serait sympa de faire du ski demain. It would be nice to go skiing tomorrow.
  • À ta place, j’achèterais cette nouvelle paire de skis. If I were you, I’d buy this new pair of skis.
  • Elle voudrait commencer son nouveau travail demain. She’d like to start her new job tomorrow.

Polite requests

The following conditional sentences are all examples of polite requests.

  • Est-ce que tu pourrais m’aider? Could you help me?
  • Voudriez-vous venir chez nous demain? Would you like to come to our place tomorrow?
  • Pourrais-tu m’expliquer ce mot? Could you explain this word to me?

Journalistic usage

In journalism, the conditional is used to express events that “reportedly” or “allegedly” occur.

  • Le premier ministre serait ici demain. The prime minister will reportedly be here tomorrow.
  • Le directeur signerait un contrat demain. The director will reportedly sign a contract tomorrow.
  • Le comedien se présenterait sur scene demain. The actor will reportedly appear on stage tomorrow.

Si clauses using the conditional

Si clauses are hypothetical “if…then” statements: If situation A happens, then situation B would result. The grammatical word order is: If + imperfect, then + conditional.

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  • Nous partirions en vacances si nous avions plus de temps. We’d go on vacation if we had more time.
  • Elle achetèrait la voiture si elle avait plus d’argent. She’d by the car if she had more money.
  • Si j’avais plus d’argent je voyagerais plus souvent. If I had more money I’d travel more.
  • Il déménagerait en France s’il pouvait. He’d move to France if he could.
  • Je serais ravis si tu invitais Paul. I’d be delighted if you invited Paul.
  • Je ferais du ski si la station de ski était encore ouverte. I’d go skiing if the ski area was still open.
  • Tu parlerais mieux si tu apprenais ces verbes. You would speak better if you learned these verbs.

How to form the past conditional

The French past conditional, also called the conditional perfect, is a compound tense formed with the auxiliary verbs avoir or être in the present conditional and the past participle. For example, “J’aurais mangé” (I would have eaten) and “Je serais allé” (I would have gone.

Past conditional conjugation

Parler -> would have spoken
j'aurais parlé
tu aurais parlé
il, elle aurait parlé
nous aurions parlé
vous auriez parlé
ils, elles auraient parlé
Aller -> would have gone
je serais allé(e)
tu serais allé(e)
il, elle serait allé(e)
nous serions allé(e)s
vous seriez allé(e)(s)
ils, elles seraient allé(e)s
Se lever -> would have gotten up
je me serais levé(e)
tu te serais levé(e)
il, elle se serait levé(e)
nous nous serions levé(e)s
vous vous seriez levé(e)(s)
ils, elles se seraient levé(e)s

Past conditional examples

Uses of the conditionnel passé consist of expressing regret for an action that never occurred and hypothetical situations of events that did or didn’t take place. J’aurais dû + infinitive indicates “I should have”.

The past conditional also has a journalistic use for events that allegedly or reportedly occurred.

Expressing regret, talking about things that never happened

Here are some examples of the past conditional expressing regret about past actions.

  • J’aurais tellement aimé y aller. Would have loved to go.
  • Tu aurais dû commander la pizza. You should have ordered the pizza.
  • J’aurais su la verité. I should have known the truth.
  • Vous auriez dû me le dire! You should have told me!

Si clause with the past conditional

The past conditional is also used to express hypothetical past situations. The grammatical structure is: If A had (not) happened (plus-que-parfait), then B would have (not) happened (past conditional).

This page covers the plus-que-parfait tense.

  • Si j’avais su, je ne serais pas y allé. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have gone.
  • J’aurais acheté la voiture si j’avais eu assez d’argent. I’d have have bought the car if I’d had enough money.
  • Elle serait allée en France si elle avait eu plus de temps libre. She would have gone to France if she’d had more free time.
  • J’aurais dîné avec toi si j’avais pu. I’d have had dinner with you if I’d been able.
  • Je serais venu si j’avais reçu ton coup de fil plus tôt. I would have come if I had received your telephone call earlier.

Journalistic usage

The past conditional is also used to expressed both allegedly and reportedly in the past.

  • Le premier ministre se serait rendu aux Pays-Bas. The prime minister reportedly made it to the Netherlands.
  • Les scientifiques auraient trouvé une vaccination. The scientists reportedly found a vaccination.
  • Le cambrioleur aurait volé le vélo. The robber allegedly stole the bike.

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