Conditionnel (conditional)

Introduction

The conditionnel can be used in French as a tense and as a mode. As a tense, the conditionnel expresses the future seen from a past point of view. As a mode, the conditionnel indicates that an action may or may not take place.

Beispiel

Zeichnung

Usage

  • to express a wish, a possibility, or a supposition in the present/future (Conditionnel Présent) or in the past (Conditionnel Passé).
    Example:
    Michel aimerait être en vacances.Michel would like to be on holiday.
  • as a tense, to talk about the future from a past point of view.
    Example:
    Michel pensait qu’il pourrait partir en voyage.Michel thought he might take a trip.
  • in conditional clauses (see Conditional Clauses)
    Example:
    S’il partait pour les Caraïbes, il pourrait aller à la plage tous les jours.If he went to the Caribbean, he could lie on the beach every day.
  • to make a polite request
    Example:
    Michel, est-ce que tu pourrais venir au tableau?Michel, could you come to the blackboard, please?

Construction

Conditionnel présent

The conditionnel présent is constructed by attaching the imparfait endings to the stem of the futur.

personer-verbsir-verbsre-verbs
1st person singular j’aimerais je finirais je vendrais
2nd person singular tu aimerais tu finirais tu vendrais
3rd person singular il aimerait il finirait il vendrait
1st person plural nous aimerions nous finirions nous vendrions
2nd person plural vous aimeriez vous finiriez vous vendriez
3rd person plural ils aimeraient ils finiraient ils vendraient

The verbs avoir and être are irregular.

personavoirêtre
1st person singular j’aurais je serais
2nd person singular tu aurais tu serais
3rd person singular il aurait il/elle/on serait
1st person plural nous aurions nous serions
2nd person plural vous auriez vous seriez
3rd person plural ils/elles auraient ils/elles seraient

Exceptions

Note the exceptions when constructing the futur.

  • A short e in the word stem receives a grave accent (accent grave).
    Example:
    peser – je pèserais
    modeler – je modèlerais
  • Some verbs double the last consonant of the word root.
    Example:
    jeter – je jetterais
    courir – je courrais
    mourir – je mourrais
  • For verbs ending in yer, y becomes i. (For verbs ending in ayer, both y and i are allowed)
    Example:
    employer – j’emploierais, tu emploierais, il emploierait, nous emploierions, vous emploieriez, ils emploieraient
    payer – je payerais/paierais
  • Verbs ending in aître keep their circumflex accent.
    Example:
    connaître – je connaîtrais
    naître – je naîtrais
    paître – je paîtrais
  • Verbs ending in oir, as well as aller, envoyer, faire and venir, are irregular (see the list of irregular verbs).
    Example:
    pouvoir – je pourrais, tu pourrais, il pourrait, nous pourrions, vous pourriez, ils pourraient

Conditionnel passé

The conditionnel passé is constructed using the conditionnel of avoir/être and the participe passé of the verb.

personer-verbsir-verbsre-verbs
1st person singular j’aurais aimé j’aurais fini j’aurais vendu
2nd person singular tu aurais aimé tu aurais fini tu aurais vendu
3rd person singular il aurait aimé il aurait fini il aurait vendu
1st person plural nous aurions aimé nous aurions fini nous aurions vendu
2nd person plural vous auriez aimé vous auriez fini vous auriez vendu
3rd person plural ils auraient aimé ils auraient fini ils auraient vendu

In negative sentences, the past participle comes after the second part of the negation.

Example:
J’aurais rigolé. → Je n’aurais pas rigolé.I would have laughed.→ I wouldn’t have laughed.
Je serais parti.→ Je ne serais pas parti. I would have left.→ I wouldn’t have left.

For reflexive verbs, we put the reflexive pronoun and the auxiliary verb between the two parts of the negation.

Example:
Je ne me serais pas trompé dans mon calcul.I I wouldn’t have miscalculated.

Avoir or être

Most verbs construct the conditionnel passé with avoir. The auxiliary verb être is used:

  • for 14 verbs of motion and of staying still: naître/mourir, aller/venir, monter/descendre, arriver/partir, entrer/sortir,apparaître, rester, retourner, tomber and e.g. their derivative forms: revenir, rentrer, remonter, redescendre, repartir.
    Example:
    Je serais parti en vacances en Bretagne.I would have gone to Brittany on holiday.
  • for reflexive verbs
    Example:
    Je me serais trompé dans mon calcul.I would have miscalculated.

Info

We use avoir when descendre, (r)entrer, (re)monter, rentrer, retourner and sortir are followed by a direct object. In this case, the meaning of the verb often changes.

Example:
À quelle heure serais-tu sorti ? What time would you have left?
but: Aurais-tu sorti les carottes du frigo ? Would you have taken the carrots out of the fridge?

Participe passé

For the regular er/ir/re-verbs, the participe passé is easy to construct:

  • If the infinitive ends with er, the participle ends with é
    Example:
    aimer – aimé
  • If the infinitive ends with ir, the participle ends with i
    Example:
    finir – fini
  • If the infinitive ends with re, the participle ends with u
    Example:
    vendre – vendu

For the irregular verbs, we have to look up the participle forms in the list of irregular verbs or learn their forms by heart.

Agreement of the participe passé

For certain verbs, the participe passé must agree in gender and number.

  • For verbs constructed with être, the participle agrees in gender and number with the subject.
    Example:
    Il serait parti en vacances.He would have gone on holiday.
    Elle serait partie en vacances.She would have gone on holiday.
    Ils seraient partis en vacances.They would have gone on holiday.
    Elles seraient parties en vacances.They (only women) would have gone on holiday.
  • For verbs that are constructed using avoir, the participle agrees in gender and number with a direct object coming before the verb; otherwise it is invariable. If a pronoun is being used as a direct object, the pronoun comes before the verb, and the participe passé agrees in gender and number with this object.
    Example:
    Le maître aurait interrogé l'écolier. → Il l’aurait interrogé.He would have asked the pupil.
    Le maître aurait interrogé l'écolière. → Il l’aurait interrogée.He would have asked the pupil (female).
    Le maître aurait interrogé les écoliers. → Ils les aurait interrogés.He would have asked the pupils.
    Le maître aurait interrogé les écolières. → Il les aurait interrogées.He would have asked the pupils (only female).
  • The participe passé of reflexive verbs generally agrees with the subject.
    Example:
    Elle se serait lavée.She would have washed herself.

    The subject (elle) and the direct object (s’= reflexive pronoun) are the same person, so the participle agrees with the subject.

    But the participe passé does not agree with the subject if the verb is followed by a direct object which is different from the subject.

    Example:
    Elle se serait lavé les mains.She would have washed her hands.

    When using the verb se rendre compte, the participe passé does also not agree with the subject. This is because compte acts as a direct object.

    Example:
    Elle se serait rendu compte de son erreur. She would have realised her mistake.

    The participe passé does not agree with the subject of the follwing verbs: se téléphoner, se parler, se mentir, se plaire (complaire/déplaire), se sourire, se rire, se nuire, se succéder, se suffire, se ressembler, s’en vouloir. This is because the reflexive pronoun is an indirect object. It is used in the sense of “each other” for these verbs.

    Example:
    Marie et Laurent se seraient téléphoné.Marie and Laurent would have spoken on the telephone. (téléphoner à)