The French 'Conditionnel' Mood Represents "If...then."

Unhappy Caucasian boy eating vegetables
Il mangerait s'il avait faim. (He would eat if he were hungry.). Esthermm/Getty Images

Conditional – in French le conditionnel – is a verb mood that indicates that an event may or may not occur; it is usually dependent on certain conditions and used with a si clause. In short, it expresses a possibility.

The French conditional mood is very similar to the English conditional mood in that it describes events that are not guaranteed to occur. While the French conditional mood has a full set of conjugations, the English equivalent is just the modal verb "would" plus the main verb.

Beware these common misspellings of the French conditionnel: conditionnal, conditionel, conditionelle, conditionnelle. 

If...then

The French conditional is mainly used in if...then constructs; it expresses the idea that if this were to happen, then that would be the result. While French uses the word si in the "if" or condition clause, it does not use a term for "then" per se in the result clause. The conditional verb itself is used in the result (then) clause, while only four other tenses are permitted in the si clause: présent, passé composé, imparfait and plus-que-parfait.

   Il mangerait s'il avait faim.
   
He would eat if he were hungry.

   Si nous étudiions, nous serions plus intelligents.
   
If we studied, (then) we would be smarter.

   Je visiterais Luc si j'avais le temps.
   I would visit Luc if I had time.

   Il mangerait avec nous si nous l'invitions.
   He would eat with us if we invited him.

Special Cases: 'Vouloir' and 'Aimer' 

The French verb vouloir is used in the conditional to express a polite request

   Je voudrais une pomme.
   I would like an apple.

   Je voudrais y aller avec vous.
   I would like to go with you.

However, the French do not say "si vous voudriez" to mean "if you would like," because the French conditional verb is never used in the si clause.



The verb aimer is used to communicate a polite desire, sometimes one that cannot be fulfilled:

   J'aimerais bien le voir.
   
I would really like to see it.

   J'aimerais y aller, mais je dois travailler.
   
I would like to go, but I have to work.

Conjugating 'le Conditionel'

Conjugating the conditional may be one of the simplest French conjugations. There is only one set of endings for all verbs, and most of them, even many that are irregular in the present tense, use their infinitives as the root. There are only about two dozen stem-changing or irregular verbs that have irregular conditional stems but take the same endings.