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What are 'si' clauses?

'Si' clauses are sometimes known as conditionals. They're used to introduce a hypothetical action which is based on another action. For example, s'il fait beau, je sors - if it is sunny, I go out. Here, the going out is dependent on the weather being nice.

There are three types of 'si' clauses:

1) Potentiel - in these, the second action could happen.
- present + present
S'il fait beau, je sors - If it is sunny, I go out.
- present + future
S'il fait beau, je sortirai - If it is sunny, I will go out.
- present + imperative
S'il fait beau, sors - If it is sunny, go out!
- passé composé + present/future/imperative
Si tu l'as vu, tu dois me dire - If you have seen it, you must tell me
Si tu l'as vu, tu devras me dire plus tard - If you have seen it, you will have to tell me later
Si tu l'as vu, dites-moi! - If you have seen it, tell me!

2) Iréel du présent - in these, the second action is unlikely
- imperfect + conditional
S'il faisait beau, je sortirais - If it was sunny, I would go out

3) Iréel du passé - in these, the second action is now impossible, given the first didn't happen
- pluperfect + conditional past
S'il avait fait beau, je serais sortie - If it had been sunny, I would have gone out

And there you have it, 'si' clauses! Quick final note: the 'si' part does not need to be first in the sentence, just like in English - we say 'I would have gone out if it had been sunny' just as we say 'if it had been sunny, I would have gone out'. The verb that follows the 'si' stays in the same tense as above, just swap the two halves around!

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