Conditional sentences in French

What are conditional clauses?

Conditional clauses (les propositions conditionelles) are if-sentences; they express an action that can only take place if a certain condition is met. Conditional clauses can usually be recognised by the connecting word si.

Learn all about conditional clauses in French grammar with Lingolia, then put your knowledge to the test in the free interactive exercises.

Example

Maman: «Marc, aujourd’hui je veux faire un gâteau. Peux-tu m’aider??»

Marc: «Si j’ai du temps cet après-midi, je t’aiderai.»


Maman: «Marc, peux-tu m’aider à faire un gâteau?»

Marc: «Si j’avais du temps, je t’aiderais. Mais je dois faire mes devoirs.»

Maman: «Le gâteau est maintenant terminé. Tu avais dit que tu voulais m’aider!»

Marc: «Si j’avais eu du temps, je t’aurais aidée. Mais je devais faire mes devoirs!»

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Real Condition

Real conditions are realistic possibilities that have a good chance of coming true (Maybe I’ll have time later). In the subordinate clause (the if-clause), we use the présent and in the main clause we use the futur or the présent.

Example:
Si j’ai le temps, je t’aiderai/aide.If I have time I will help you.
It’s possible that I will have time later.

To Note

If we are referring to a specific time in the future (such as in the example above), we have to use the futur in the main clause.

Example:
Si j’ai du temps cet après-midi, je t’aiderai.

Unreal condition in the present

When we talk about a condition that is impossible in the present or is impossible in the future (I don’t have time), we use the imparfait in the if-clause and the conditionnel présent in the main clause.

Example:
Si j’avais le temps, je t’aiderais.If I had time, I would help you.
For one reason or another, I don’t/won’t have time.

Unreal condition in the past

To talk about an alternative past condition and its hypothetical outcome (I didn’t have time), we use the plus-que-parfait in the if-clause and the conditionnel passé in the main clause. We often refer to this as the “unreal past” (l’iréel dans le passé).

Example:
Si j’avais eu le temps, je t’aurais aidée.If I had had time, I would have helped you.
In the past I didn’t have time, but this sentence imagines an alternative past.