Learn How to Use the French Conditional Mood

French produce vendor
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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.

You will find this lesson very useful because the conditional is an essential part of increasing your fluency in French.

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.

      SubjectEndingJouer Finir Dire 
      je-aisjoueraisfiniraisdirais
      tu-aisjoueraisfiniraisdirais
      il-aitjoueraitfiniraitdirait
      nous-ironsjouerionsfinirionsdirions
      vous-iezjoueriezfiniriezdiriez
      ils-aientjoueraientfiniraientdiraient

      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 VerbConditional StemSimilar 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 nettoieremployer, 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-