To talk about something that would, could, or should have happened—but didn’t—you need the conditional perfect, also known as the past conditional.
The conditional perfect is commonly used in si clauses: the conditional perfect explains what would or would not have happened, an action that was dependent upon something else happening or not happening, which is indicated by the past perfect.
|J’aurais fini le travail si tu m’avais laissé tranquille.||I would have finished the work if you had left me alone.|
|Si j’avais su l’heure de ton arrivée, je t’aurais cherché à l’aéroport.||If I had known your arrival time, I would have picked you up at the airport.|
As you can see, both of these theoretical actions are in the past, and neither one occurred. You didn’t leave me alone, so I didn’t do the work, and since I didn’t know your arrival time, I didn’t pick you up at the airport.
The conditional perfect can also be used without a dependent action, such as to express regret or to criticize.
|Qu’est-ce que vous auriez fait, à ma place ?||What would you have done, in my position / in my shoes?|
|Tu aurais dû manger avant de sortir.||You should have eaten before going out.|
|Nous aurions aimé voir un film, mais le cinéma était fermé.||We would have liked to see a movie, but the theater was closed.|
In all of the above, the conditional perfect is used the same way in French and English.
But there’s one construction in which the conditionnel passé is used only in French: to report unconfirmed or hypothetical news.
|L’orage aurait causé plusieurs millions d’euros de dégâts.||Apparently the storm caused millions of euros in damages.|
|Le conducteur du véhicule serait gravement blessé.||The driver of the vehicle may be seriously wounded.|
- Conditional perfect conjugations
- PwLF super list of conditional perfect lessons
- Si clauses
- Conditional mood
- Introduction to verbs
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