Le conditionnel: the conditional in French

What is le conditionnel?

Le conditionnel (the conditional) can be used in French as a tense and as a mood. As a tense, le conditionnel expresses the future seen from a past point of view. As a mood, the conditional allows us to talk about a hypothetical or imagined reality that can only occur under certain circumstances.

Learn all about le conditionnel in French with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the free exercises.

Example

Zeichnung

When to use le conditionnel in French

Le conditionnel is often translated with would or could in English. In French, we use the conditional in the following cases:

  • to express a wish, a possibility, or a hypothesis in the present or the 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 could take a trip.
  • in if-clauses (see the section on 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 polite requests
    Example:
    Michel, est-ce que tu pourrais venir au tableau?Michel, could you come to the blackboard, please?

How to conjugate le conditionnel in French

Conditionnel présent

We form the conditionnel présent by adding the imparfait endings to the stem of the futur simple form of the verb.

Person -er verbs -ir verbs -re verbs
1st person singular (I) j’aimerais je finirais je vendrais
2nd person singular (you) tu aimerais tu finirais tu vendrais
3rd person singular (he/she/it) il aimerait il finirait il vendrait
1st person plural (we) nous aimerions nous finirions nous vendrions
2nd person plural (you) vous aimeriez vous finiriez vous vendriez
3rd person plural (they) ils aimeraient ils finiraient ils vendraient

The verbs avoir and être are irregular.

Person avoir être
1st person singular (I) j’aurais je serais
2nd person singular (you tu aurais tu serais
3rd person singular (he/she/it) il aurait il/elle/on serait
1st person plural (we) nous aurions nous serions
2nd person plural (you) vous auriez vous seriez
3rd person plural (they) ils/elles auraient ils/elles seraient

To conjugate any French verb in the conditional, go to the verb conjugator.

Exceptions

Note the exceptions when conjugating the futur simple.

  • A short e in the word stem receives a grave accent (accent grave) in the futur simple.
    Examples:
    peser - je pèserai
    modeler - je modèlerai
  • Some verbs double the last consonant of the word root.
    Examples:
    jeter - je jetterai
  • The i in certain -rir verbs disappears when we add the endings.
    Examples:
    courir - je courrai
    mourir - je mourrai
  • For verbs ending in yer, y becomes i. (For verbs ending in ayer, both y and i are allowed)
    Example:
    employer - j’emploierai, tu emploieras, il emploiera, nous emploierons, vous emploierez, ils emploieront
    payer - je payerai/paierai
  • Verbs ending in -oir, as well as the verbs aller, envoyer, faire and venir, are irregular. To see their full conjugations, go to the list of irregular verbs.
    Example:
    pouvoir – je pourrai, tu pourras, il pourra, nous pourrons, vous pourrez, ils pourront

Conditionnel passé

The conditional passé corresponds to the English structure would have + past participle. We use it to look back on past situations and express alternative outcomes. To conjugate the conditionnel passé we use the conditional form of avoir/être followed by the participe passé of the verb.

Person -er verbs -ir verbs -re verbs
1st person singular (I) j’aurais aimé j’aurais fini j’aurais vendu
2nd person singular (you) tu aurais aimé tu aurais fini tu aurais vendu
3rd person singular (he/she/it) il aurait aimé il aurait fini il aurait vendu
1st person plural (we) nous aurions aimé nous aurions fini nous aurions vendu
2nd person plural (you) vous auriez aimé vous auriez fini vous auriez vendu
3rd person plural (they) ils auraient aimé ils auraient fini ils auraient vendu

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

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 (ne … pas).

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:

  • with 14 verbs of motion and staying still: naître/mourirto be born/to die, aller/venirto go/to come, monter/descendreto go up/to go down, arriver/partirto arrive/to leave, entrer/sortirto enter/to go out, apparaîtreto appear, resterto stay, retournerto return, tomberto fall and their related forms such as: revenirto come back, rentrerto go back in, remonterto go back up, redescendreto go back down, repartirto leave again.
    Example:
    Je serais parti en vacances en Bretagne.I would have gone to Brittany on holiday.
  • with 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, check their conjugation in the verb conjugator — or simply 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 of the sentence.
    Examples:
    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 that comes before the verb. This direct object can take three possible forms: a personal pronoun (me, te, le, la, nous, vous, les), the relative pronoun que, or a noun that comes before the verb (in questions and exclamations).
    Examples:
    Le maître aurait interrogé l’écolier. → Il l’aurait interrogé.The teacher would have asked the student.
    Le maître aurait interrogé l’écolière. → Il l’aurait interrogée.The teacher would have asked the student. (female)
    Le maître aurait interrogé les écoliers. → Il les aurait interrogés.The teacher would have asked the students. (males)
    Le maître aurait interrogé les écolières. → Il les aurait interrogées.The teacher would have asked the students. (all female)
  • In the case of reflexive verbs (which always take être as their auxiliary in the conditionnel passé), the past participle generally agrees with the subject.
    Example:
    Nous nous serions levés trop tard.We would have got up too late.
  • The exception to this concerns direct objects: the participle does not agree if the reflexive verb is followed by a direct object.
    Example:
    Elle se serait lavé les mains.She would have washed her hands. (Elle se serait lavé quoi? → les mains)
    → but: Elle se serait lavée.She would have washed herself.
  • Remember: the past participle never agrees with an indirect object:
Example:
Marie et Laurent se seraient téléphoné.Marie and Laurent would have called each other on the phone.
se = indirect object
  • The participe passé does not agree with the subject of the following verbs: se téléphonerto phone each other, se parlerto talk to each other, se mentirto lie to each other, se plaire (complaire/déplaire)to like each other, se sourireto smile at each other, se rireto laugh at each other, se nuireto hurt each other, se succéderto succeed each other, se suffireto be enough, se ressemblerto look like each other, s’en vouloirto be annoyed with each other. This is because the reflexive pronoun is an indirect object. It is used in the sense of “each other” for these verbs.