How to Use the French Conditional Mood

A vendor at a French market weighs some produce
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The French conditional (le conditionnel) mood is very similar to the English conditional mood. It describes events that are not guaranteed to occur, those that are often dependent on certain conditions. While the French conditional mood has a full set of conjugations, the English equivalent is simply the modal verb "would" plus the main verb.

Le Conditionnel: 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" 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
  • Il mangerait avec nous si nous l'invitions: He would eat with us if we invited him

Special Cases: Vouloir and Aimer

The verb vouloir (to want) 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, you can't say "si vous voudriez" to mean "if you would like," because the French conditional can never be used after si.

The verb aimer (to like, love) is used to express 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 Conditionnel

Conjugating the conditional may be one of the simplest French conjugations you'll encounter. There is only one set of endings for all verbs. 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.

To show you how easy conditional conjugations are, let's take a look at how it applies to different types of verbs. We'll use jouer (to play) as our regular -er example, finir (to finish) as our irregular -ir example, and dire (to say) as one exception to the rules.

Subject Ending Jouer  Finir  Dire 
je -ais jouerais finirais dirais
tu -ais jouerais finirais dirais
il -ait jouerait finirait dirait
nous -irons jouerions finirions dirions
vous -iez joueriez finiriez diriez
ils -aient joueraient finiraient diraient

Notice how we had to drop the "e" in dire before adding the conditional endings. This is the sort of change you will find in that handful of verbs that do not follow the standard conditional conjugation pattern. Other than that, you can see how easy it is to form the conditional from almost any verb, even the irregular ones.

The Verbs That Don't Follow the Rules

So which verbs are you going to have to pay attention to when it comes to the conditional verb mood? Dire and other verbs that end in  -ire are easy compared to some of the others, a few barely resemble the infinitive form while others take on more subtle changes. 

The following verbs are irregular in the conditional mood. Notice how the stems change and that they do not use the infinitive form like the other verbs do. There are two rules here:

  1. The conditional stem always ends in "r." 
  2. The exact same verbs are irregular in the future tense and use the same stems.

When conjugating these into the conditional, simply attach the endings noted above according to the subject pronoun in your sentence.

Infinitive Verb Conditional Stem Similar Verbs
acheter  achèter- achever, amener, emmener, lever, promener
acquérir  acquerr- conquérir, s'enquérir
appeler  appeller- épeler, rappeler, renouveler
aller  ir-  
avoir  aur-  
courir  courr- concourir, discourir, parcourir
devoir  devr-  
envoyer  enverr-  
essayer  essaier- balayer, effrayer, payer
essuyer  essuier- appuyer, ennuyer
être  ser-  
faire  fer-  
falloir  faudr-  
jeter  jetter- feuilleter, hoqueter, projeter, rejeter
nettoyer  nettoier employer, noyer, tutoyer, -ayer stem-changing verbs
pleuvoir  pleuvr-  
pouvoir  pourr-  
savoir  saur-  
tenir  tiendr- maintenir, obtenir, soutenir
valoir  vaudr-  
venir  viendr- devenir, parvenir, revenir
voir  verr- revoir
vouloir  voudr-