The French Conditional Mood and How It Works Talk in French
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French Conditional Mood (Le Conditionnel): How does it work?

 

Let’s talk about le conditionnel.

What is it and how does it work?

Reading Time: 8 minutes Difficulty: Beginner- Intermediate

Whether you are particularly aware of it or not, we often use the conditionals in our daily speech.

The conditionals are both used the same way in English, as well as in French.
But first, what exactly is it?

The conditional is a form of verb being used when talking about things that could happen under certain conditions, or those that are not guaranteed to happen but may occur given a certain set of circumstances.

In English we simply use the modal verb “would” or its shortened form ‘d, and then we add the main verb after
it.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • I would help him with his homework if he asked.
  • You’d be shocked if you knew.

In French however, it is a lot more than that. There is a whole set of different rules for different kinds of verbs.
BUT – if you are already familiar with how to form the FUTURE TENSE, it will be so much easier to follow. If
you need to brush up on your French future tense, please do so by checking out this link to the article: Learning French Tenses: Future Tense.

Uses of the conditional:

Aside from its function as mentioned in the definition given above, the conditional form is used (both in English
and French) in the following instances:

• In asking politely or formally, especially in public settings. (Example: I would like a cup of coffee,
please.)
• In saying what you would like or need. (Example: I would like to take a tour of the place.)
• In making a suggestion. (Example: I could come over and cheer you up.)
• In giving  advice to someone. (Example: You should tell him you’re sorry.)
• In playing roles, imaginary or not. (Example: I would be the doctor and you would be the nurse.)
• In soft nagging or complaining. (Example: You could clean your room instead of sleeping  all
day.)
• In “even if” or “in case of” clauses. (Examples: Even if he would sleep all day, he’d still get good grades.
In case of any problem, you would call me, right?)

Basic Rules in How to Form the Conditional:

• Most verbs in the conditional form follow this format: the infinitive (used as the stem) + an ending
similar to that of the endings for the imperfect tense: -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, and -aient.
• It is formed with a stem (which is basically similar to the one being used as a future stem in FUTURE
TENSES) combined with an ending that is dependent on the subject (whether it is about je, tu, elle,
on, nous, vous, ils, or elles.)
• To put it simply, FUTURE STEM + IMPERFECT TENSE ENDING equals a conditional form.
• There is no direct counterpart in French to the word would. Instead, the verb ending is changed to turn it into a one-word version of the English conditional phrase

1. Rules for regular verbs with -er and -ir endings in the conditional

The rule in conjugating regular verbs to form a conditional is similar to that of the rules for the future tense.
Basically, you use the same stem for future tense and just add the appropriate endings.
Let’s use donner and finir as our examples

PronounEndingAdd to “future stem”What it means
je (j')-aisje donnerais
je finirais
I would give
I would finish
tu -aistu donnerais
tu finirais
you would give
you would finish
il
elle
on
-aitil/elle/on donnerait
il/elle/on finirait
he/she/it/one would give
he/she/it/ one would
finish
nous-ionsnous donnerions
nous finirions
We would give
we would finish
vous-iezvous donneriez
vous finiriez
you would give
you would finish
ils
elles
-aientils/ elles donneraient
ils/ elles finiraient
they would give
they would finish


Quick tip: je is shortened to j’ when preceding a word that begins with a vowel, h, or the French word y.

Some changes in spelling for the conditional stem of regular -er verbs:

• The consonants ‘l’ and ‘t’ in those verbs which end in -eler and -eter gets doubled. The pronunciation of
the first letter e also changes from ‘uhr’ to ‘eh’. Exceptions are the words geler (to freeze), peler (to peel)
and acheter (to buy).

Examples:

appeler (to call) becomes appellerais, appellerais, appellerait, appellerions, appelleriez,
appelleraient

Jeter (to throw) becomes jetterais, jetterais, jetterait, jetterions, jetteriez, jetteraient

• For verbs that end in -yer, the y often becomes i when used in the future tense

For example:

nettoyer (to clean) becomes nettoierais, nettoierais, nettoierait, nettoierions, nettoieriez,
nettoieraient

2. Rules for irregular verbs in the conditional

The verbs with irregular stems in the future tense are the very same irregular verbs in conditional. So if you are already familiar with that topic, this is way too easy for you already.

Some examples of the irregular verbs that have irregular stems in both future and conditional are the following:
avoir, être, faire, aller, devoir, pouvoir, savoir, tenir, venir, voir, vouloir.

  • The verb avoir becomes aurais, aurais, aurait, aurions, auriez, auraient
  • The verb être becomes serais, serais, serait, serions, seriez, seraient
  • The verb faire becomes ferais, ferais, ferait, ferions, feriez, feraient
  • The verb aller becomes irais, irais, irait, irions, iriez, iraient

To say it simply, even if these verbs are irregular, they still conform to the pattern by using the same endings as the regular verbs.

Quick Recap

1. The conditional endings are: -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, and -aient. These endings are similar to the
IMPERFECT TENSE endings.
2. The stem used to form the conditional is the same as the stem used in FUTURE TENSE.
3. The endings to be used vary depending on the subject which could either be je, tu, elle, on, nous,
vous, ils, or elles.
4. The main rule for regular verbs with -er and -ir endings is simply to add the appropriate ending to the
stem.
5. The list of irregular verbs for conditional is the same as the irregular verbs for future tense.
6. For verbs that have -eler and -eter endings, the l and t get doubled when changing to conditional 

If you are having difficulty trying to catch up with this topic, feel free to visit the article on FUTURE TENSE, also in this site. Just remember to keep coming back to review the lessons until you have thoroughly familiarized yourself.

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About the Author Frederic Bibard

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

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