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In English, we use the modal "would" plus a verb to talk about actions that may or may not take place, usually depending on whether a certain condition is met. The French equivalent to this construction is a conditional mood with a full set of conjugations for every verb. The uses of these two constructions are very similar.
The most common use of the French conditional is in the result (then) clause of conditional sentences (aka si clauses), which describe what would happen if some condition were met.
|Je t’appellerais si j’avais des nouvelles /
Si j’avais des nouvelles, je t’appellerais.
|I would call you if I had any news /
If I had any news, I would call you.
|Tu réussirais à l’examen si tu étudiais /
Si tu étudiais, tu réussirais à l’examen.
|You’d pass the test if you studied /
If you studied, you’d pass the test.
Though the French conditional is generally considered equivalent to “would,” this is not always the case. See the note in the Habitual section of the imperfect lesson.
Vouloir (to want) can be used in the conditional to ask for something.
|Je voudrais vous accompagner.||I would like to go with you.|
|Nous voudrions commander maintenant.||We’d like to order now.|
Fais gaffe ! Si + conditional
The use of the conditional after si is somewhat restricted.
- It’s not used with vouloir because you’re already asking about what someone wants, so using the conditional on top of that is overcautious in French. Bref, don’t translate "if you would like" as
si vous voudriez– the correct translation is si vous voulez.
- The conditional cannot be used after si in if … then … clauses.
- However, the conditional can be used after si in indirect speech, such as Je me demande s’il travaillerait pour nous. "I wonder if he’d work for us."
Aimer (to like) can be used in the conditional to talk about something that you would like to have / do, though it may not be possible.
|J’aimerais mettre la clim.||I’d like to put the air conditioning on.|
|J’aimerais voir un film, mais je dois étudier.||I’d like to see a movie, but I have to study.|
|Nous aimerions y être avec toi.||We’d like to be there with you, We wish we could be there with you.|
When reporting a sentiment like "he will go" in indirect speech, the future is replaced by the conditional:
|Il a dit: « J’irai à la banque demain. »
> Il a dit qu’il irait à la banque demain.
|He said, "I will go to the bank tomorrow."
> He said that he would go the bank tomorrow.
Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on the French conditional with these fill-in-the-blanks exercises:
- Conditional conjugations
- PwLF super list of conditional lessons
- Modal verbs
- Si clauses
- Conditional perfect
- Introduction to verbs
- Pronunciation: AI vs AIS
- Culinary culture (Lesson, 8th-9th grade)
- Culinary culture: Grammar (Worksheet, 10th-11th grade)
- Expressing a condition with “if” (Lesson, 10th-11th grade)
- Expressing a condition with “if” (Worksheet, 10th-11th grade)
- Idioms with “if” (Worksheet, 8th-10th grade)
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