Using the Conditional Tense in Spanish

English equivalent uses the auxiliary verb ‘would’

pupusas for lesson on the conditional tense
Si haces pupusas, las comería. (If you make pupusas, I would eat them.).

Ceasol / Creative Commons

Unlike other verb tenses in Spanish, the conditional tense isn't used to indicate when a verb's action takes place, but rather to indicate that the verb's action is hypothetical in nature. Depending on the context, it can refer to hypothetical actions in past, present, or future.

English has doesn't have a conditional tense, although using the auxiliary verb "would" followed by the base form of the verb, as in "would eat," can fulfill the same purpose. Note that while "would + verb" often refers to hypothetical actions, it also has other uses, particularly when referring to the past. For example, "would go" is like the Spanish conditional tense in the sentence "If it were to rain I would go with you" but is like the Spanish imperfect tense in "When we were lived in Madrid I would go with you." In the first sentence, "would go" is conditioned on the rain, but in the second section "would go" refers to a real action.

This tense in Spanish is also known as the futuro hipotético (hypothetical future), tiempo potencial (potential tense), or tiempo condicional (conditional tense). These names all suggest such verbs refer to actions that are possible and not necessarily actual.

Conjugation of the Conditional Tense

The Spanish conditional tense for regular verbs is formed by adding the following endings (in boldface) to the infinitive:

  • yo comería (I would eat)
  • tú comerías (you singular would eat)
  • él/ella/usted comería (he/she/you/it would eat)
  • nosotros/nosotras comeríamos (we would eat)
  • vosotros/vosotras comeríais (you plural would eat)
  • ellos/ellas comerían (they/you would eat)

The conditional tense has historical ties to the future tense, which can be seen in their formation from the infinitive rather than the verb stem. Also, if the future tense of a verb is formed irregularly, the conditional is usually irregular in the same way. For example, "I would want" is querría in the conditional and querré in the future, with the r changed to rr in both cases..

The conditional perfect tense is formed by using the conditional of haber with a past participle. Thus "they would have eaten" is "habrían comido."

How the Conditional Tense Is Used

The conditional tense, as its name implies, is used to indicate that if a condition is met, the verb's action did or will take place or is taking place.

For example, in the sentence "Si lo encuentro, sería un milagro" (If I find it, it would be a miracle), the first part of the sentence ("Si lo encuentro" or "If I find it") is the condition. Sería is in the conditional tense because whether it refers to an actual occurrence depends on whether the condition is true.

Similarly, in the sentence "Si fuera inteligente habría elegido otra cosa" (If he were intelligent, he would have chosen something else), the first part of the sentence (si fuera inteligente) is the condition, and habría is in the conditional tense. Note how in the first example, the conditional verb refers to something that might or might not take place, while in the second example the conditional verb refers to an action that never happened but might have under different conditions.

In both English and Spanish, the condition does not need to be explicitly stated. In the sentence "Yo lo comería" ("I would eat it"), the condition is not stated but is implied by the context. For example, the condition might be something like "si lo veo" (if I see it) or "si lo cocinas" (If you cook it).

Examples of the Conditional Tense

These sentences show how the conditional tense is used:

  • Sería una sorpresa. (It would be a surprise.)
  • Si pudieras jugar, ¿estarías feliz? (If you were able to play, would you be happy?)
  • Si fuera posible, me gustaría verte. (If it were possible, I'd like to see you.
  • Llegamos a pensar que nunca volveríamos a grabar una nueva canción. (We concluded that we would never again record a new song. Note that the English translation here isn't a literal one.)
  • Creo que te habrían escuchado. (I believe they would have listened to you.)
  • Si no te hubiera conocido, mi vida habría sido diferente. (If I had not met you, my life would have been different.)

Key Takeaways

  • The conditional tense, sometimes known as the hypothetical future, is used to indicate that an action would take place (or would have taken place or will) if a condition is met.
  • The conditional tense is conjugated by adding an ending to the infinitive.
  • The condition that triggers the conditional tenses can be implied by context rather than explicitly stated.