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What is the 'conditional' in French, and how do you use it?

What does it mean?

It’s one of the four ‘moods’ in French (the others are: indicative, subjunctive and imperative)

Because it’s a mood, it can be used in a number of tenses.  Simplest (and the one you'll most likely cover in exams) is ‘conditional present’ tense.  Verbs in the conditional present tense basically mean someone ‘would’ do something.

E.g. Si j’avais beaucoup d’argent, j’irais au Japon.  If I had lots of money, I would go to Japan. 

Nous voudrions deux cafés, s’il vous plait.  We would like two coffees, please. 

Je regarderais la télé.  I would watch TV.

Important!  A couple of verbs don’t sound like ‘would’ in the conditional – they have their own meanings.  There are two important ones...

1. pouvoir (to be able to).  The conditional present of pouvoir means ‘could’.  E.g. Je pourrais conduire à Londres.  I could drive to London. 

2. devoir (to have to).  The conditional present of this is 'should' in English.  E.g. Elle devrait acheter une voiture. She should buy a car.

How do you form it?

The RULE

Take the same stem as the future tense (infinitive minus the 'e' at the end of 're' verbs) and add the same endings you use for the imperfect tense:

Je            ais

Tu            ais

Il/elle/on    ait

Nous         ions

Vous         iez

Ils/elles     aient

E.g.

Parler --> Je parlerais, tu parlerais, elle parlerait, nous parlerions, vous parleriez, ells parleraient

Finir --> je finirais, tu finirais, elle finirait, nous finirions, vous finiriez, elles finiraient

Attendre --> j'attendrais, tu attendrais, elle attendrait, nous attendrions, vous attendriez, elles attendraient

The Exceptions

As usual, unfortunately, some of the most important verbs are irregular!  The way that they’re irregular is in relation to the stem of the verb.  Below is a list of the most important irregular verbs, their stems and conjugated examples.

Aller        ir          J’irais

Avoir       aur      Tu aurais

Etre         ser      On serait

Faire        fer       Nous ferions

Pouvoir    pour    Vous pourriez

Devoir     devr     Ils devraient

Savoir     saur     Je saurais

Venir      viendr    Tu viendrais

Voir        verr       Elle verrait

Vouloir   voudr     Nous voudrions

Practice

Understanding… watch music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRCRV4JwIds  

What’s Clarika trying to tell her boyfriend?  Can you give three examples of conditional tense she uses?

Morna C.

1 year ago

Answered by Morna, a GCSE French tutor with MyTutor


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