“Le conditionnel” is an important part of your French studies. You will be able to express yourself more freely when you have mastered this tense.
Before beginning, it should be mentioned that “le conditionnel” can also be a mood (grammatical term).
There are many areas of application. Let us begin by going through some of these areas.
Areas of application
1. Being polite.
Politeness is an important part of the French language. I’m sure you are already aware of this. Let us see how the conditional tense can help you to sound more polite:
- Je voudrais un verre du vin – I would like a glass of wine.
- J’aimerais t’aider, mais j’ai une tache à faire – I would like to help you, but I have something to do.
- Pourriez vous me donner ma veste s’il vous plaît? – Could you give me my jacket please?
There are many examples in this category. Let us come back to it later.
2. Expressing a possibility or something that you want to do.
- Tu pourrais aller l’aider – You could go and help her.
- Elle aimerait visiter la Suède – She would like to visit Sweden.
- Je dirais non mais il faut lui demander – I would say no, but you need to ask her.
3. Si + imparfait + le conditionnel
Ok, this might sound a bit difficult and confusing. “Si-phrases” are the equivalent of “if” in English.
In French, there are strict rules for using “si-phrases”. It takes time learning this concept.
However, it makes more sense after practicing with a couple of sentences .
Let us look at a couple of examples:
- Nous serions (le conditionnel) plus contents si elle venait (imparfait) – We would be happier if she came.
- Elle aurait une maison si elle était riche – She would have a house if she was rich.
You might wonder why I choose to place the conditional tense before the imperfect tense?
The answer is that it does not matter. You can choose the order that makes the phrase sound better.
There is no rule stopping you from doing this.
However, sometimes we choose a specific structure in a sentence because it sounds better.
Let us look at an example where we change the structure of the phrase:
- Nous resterions (le conditionnel) à l’extérieur s’il faisait (imparfait) chaud – We would stay outside if it was warm.
- S’il faisait chaud, nous resterions à l’extérieur – If it was warm, we would stay outside.
We will begin by looking at the infinitive form of the verb. Are you familiar with the infinitive form?
Let us look at 3 examples:
- Regarder – to watch
- Finir – to finish
- Entendre – to hear
This is the infinitive form in English and French respectively.
These verbs will help us conjugate the conditional form. Why?
Because they belong to different verb groups.
- Verbs ending in ”er”, for instance regarder.
- The ones ending in ”ir”, for instance finir.
- The ones ending in ”re”, for instance entendre.
We just need to remove the “e” from the end of the verb in the third group. “Entendre” will be “entendr”.
We can now add the endings to the different verbs. The endings will always be the same.
Je regarderais – I would watch
Tu regarderais – You would watch
Il/elle/on regarderait – He/she/we would watch
Nous regarderions – We would watch (formal)
Vous regarderiez – You would watch
Ils/elles regardaient – They would watch
Je finirais – I would finish
Tu finirais – You would finish
Il/elle/on finirait – He/she/we would finish
Nous finirions – We would finish (formal)
Vous finiriez – You would finish
Ils/elles finiraient – They would finish
J’entendrais – I would hear
Tu entendrais – You would hear
Il/elle/on entendrait – He/she/we would hear
Nous entendrions – We would hear
Vous entendriez – You would hear
Ils/elles entendraient – They would hear
Now you can create the conditional tense on your own .
However, there is one more important factor to cover.
You are probably aware of the many irregular verbs in French.
You need to learn many of them by heart.
There is also one verb, whose meaning completely changes in the conditional tense. More on this after the excercises.
Are you familiar with the verb ”devoir”, which means ”to must”?
The meaning of this verb changes to “should” in the conditional tense.
- Elle devrait se coucher avant 9 heures du soir– She should go to bed before 9 pm.
- Je devrais faire mes devoirs – I should do my homework.
- On devrait aller maintenant – We should go now.
- Nous devrions étudier – We should study.
“Pouvoir”, which means “to can”, changes to “could” in the conditional tense.
This change makes sense. However, the verb is highly irregular. The stem changes to “pourr”.
It is therefore a good idea to practice this difference.
- Je pourrais t’aider – I could help you.
- Pourrions-nous payer s’il vous plaît – Could we pay please?
- Pourriez-vous fermer la porte s’il vous plaît? – Could you close the door please?
- Elle pourrait venir plus tôt – She could come earlier.
So, we have already discussed some irregular verbs. One example is “pourr”, which is the stem for “could”.
However, there are many irregular verbs in French. And some of them changes quite drastically from their stems in the present tense.
Let us look at some of them:
- Aller (to go): ir
- Avoir (to have): aur
- Être (to be): ser
- Faire (to do): fer
These four verbs are very important. And as you can see, the stems change for some tenses.
There is some good news. The endings do not change. Do you remember the endings that we discussed earlier?
Let us add the endings to “ser” and “aur”:
Je serais – I would be
Tu serais – You would be
Il/elle/on serait – He/she/we would be
Nous serions – We would be (formal)
Vous seriez – You would be
Ils/elles seraient – They would be
J’aurais – I would have
Tu aurais – You would have
Il/elle/on aurait – He/she/we would have
Nous aurions – We would have (formal)
Vous auriez – You would have
Ils/elles auraient – They would have
|Now you should be able to do the same process with “ir” and “fer”. You just need to add the endings.|
”Le conditionnel” or ”le futur simple”?
There is a big grammatical difference between these tenses. However, in many cases, they sound pretty much the same.
Let us look at a couple of examples.
The ”s” in the end of “aurais” and “serais” is not pronounced. This is not a problem in writing. The “s” is enough to make us understand the difference.
Hearing the difference is another story.
So, how can I be sure of the difference when listening to French?
You need to consider the context. However, looking at the context is nearly an impossible task for a beginner.
Therefore, you need to be patient, and accept that you will probably not be able to hear and understand the difference in the beginning. We can look at two examples to understand why it makes sense to look at the context.
Let us say that I am new as a teacher. I have just arrived to the first class and I am about to present myself.
- Bonjour, mon nom est Kyle et je serai votre professeur durant ce semestre– Hi, my name is Kyle, I will be your teacher during this semester.
This sentence and translation make sense with regards to the context. It is, however, unlikely that I would say:
- Bonjour, mon nom est Kyle et je serais votre professeur durant ce semestre– Hi, my name is Kyle, I would be your teacher during this semester.
It is not impossible, but in this case, I would probably give you more information on why I will not be your teacher.
We have yet one more important factor to cover.
Is it always difficult to hear the difference?
The answer to this question is no. There are only significant differences between some of the conjugations.
Let us look at the stem for “fer”. We use the stem “fer” for the verb “faire”, which means “to do”.
Faire – Le conditionnel
- Je ferais – I would do
- Tu ferais – You would do
- Il/elle/on ferait – He/she/we would do
- Nous ferions – We would do (formal)
- Vous feriez – You would do
- Ils/elles feraient – They would do
Faire – futur simple
- Je ferai – I will do
- Tu feras – You will do
- Il/elle/on fera – He/she/we will do
- Nous ferons – We will do (formal)
- Vous ferez – You will do
- Ils/elles feront – They will do
In this case, we can conclude that the similarity only holds true for number 1. That is:
- Je ferai
- Je ferais
There is a difference with regards to pronunciation for all the other conjugations.
In this article, I have tried to cover different perspectives. The most important aspects are presented in the beginning.
However, I wanted to write an article that could be helpful for different levels. I have therefore also added a chapter for the irregular conjugations, as well as the difference in pronunciation.
If you have mastered this mood, you can move on to le conditionnel passé which corresponds to conditional perfect.