Conditional Perfect

Conditionnel passé

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.

Par exemple…

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.

Par exemple…

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.

Par exemple…

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.

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French conditional perfect


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4 Responses

  1. Kevin Cohen 16 November 2016 / 22:55

    Thanks for talking about the past conditional for hypothetical or unconfirmed news–I don’t think I’ve heard of that phenomenon before. Any idea how I could find more examples of this?

    • lkl 17 November 2016 / 9:31

      I’ve never seen it addressed anywhere – it’s just something I’ve noticed over the years. There’s nothing in Le Bon Usage.

      • Dave 17 January 2017 / 7:46

        I use a lot of newspaper articles to try and brush up my french and this was driving me mad as I couldn’t find any rules about it. The resources that mention it say it’s journalistic for ‘It is said that’. My question is; can it be used in conversation for trivial things such as ‘It’s said that the newsagent is selling up and moving to Spain’ – Le propriétaire du tabac aurait vendu son affaire afin de partir en permanence en Espagne.

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