I Would Have: The Italian Conditional Perfect Tense

Learn how to conjugate and use the Italian condizionale passato

Female shopping friends showing new dress at sidewalk cafe in city
Maria ha un vestito nuovo. Maria has on a new dress. Zero Creatives/Image Source/Getty Images

If the present conditional is the tense that expresses what would happen today under certain conditions—if something had happened or if certain conditions were met—the conditional perfect, or condizionale passato, is the tense that expresses what would have happened in the past had certain conditions been met. Or what we thought was supposed to happen in the past.

It's what in English corresponds to "would have eaten," or, "would have gone"; "would have brought," "would have read," and "would have been."

What the Condizionale Passato Expresses

The Italian condizionale passato works in two situations in the past: in a hypothetical with a condition clause (an action that would have happened had something else happened); and an action without a condition that was supposed to have happened, also in the past (and whether it happened or not is not really material).

For example:

  • I would have brought bread if I had known there was none.

And:

  • They told us that others would have brought bread.

How to Conjugate the Condizionale Passato

The perfect or past conditional is conjugated by combining the present conditional of the auxiliary verb you are using and the past participle of your main verb.

As pertains to all compound tenses, remember your ground rules for choosing the appropriate auxiliary verb: Most transitive verbs use the auxiliary verb avere; some intransitive verbs take essere, some take avere. When used in reflexive or reciprocal mode or in pronominal forms, verbs take essere; but there are many verbs that take essere or avere depending on whether they are being used transitively or intransitively at that moment.

To start, let's refresh our memories on the present conditional of auxiliaries avere and essere so we can use them to build the condizionale passato:

  Avere
(to have)
Essere 
(to be)
io avrei  sarei
tu avresti  saresti 
lui, lei, Lei  avrebbe  sarebbe 
noi  avremmo  saremmo 
voi  avreste sareste
loro, Loro avrebbero  sarebbero 

Using some basic transitive verbs that take the auxiliary avereportare, leggere, and dormire (dormire is intransitive, by the way)—let's take a look at some condizionale passato conjugations without context:

  • Io avrei portato: I would have brought
  • Lucia avrebbe letto: Lucia would have read
  • I bambini avrebbero dormito: the children would have slept

Now, let's use some verbs that take esserericordarsi, for example, andare, and the reflexive svegliarsi:

  • Mi sarei ricordata: I would have remembered
  • Lucia sarebbe andata: Lucia would have gone
  • I bambini si sarebbero svegliati: the children would have woken.

The Condizionale Passato With Other Tenses

Back to the two situations in which the condizionale passato is used:

When used in a hypothetical with an "if" dependent clause, the dependant clause is conjugated in the congiuntivo trapassato (remember, the congiuntivo trapassato is made of the imperfetto congiuntivo of the auxiliary and the past participle).

  • Sarei andata a scuola se non fossi stata malata. I would have gone to school if I had not been sick.
  • Nilo ci avrebbe fatto le tagliatelle se avesse saputo che venivamo. Nilo would have made tagliatelle for us if he had known that we were coming.
  • Se ci fosse stato, avrei preso un treno prima. If there had been one, I would have taken an earlier train.
  • Avremmo preso l'autobus se tu non ci avessi dato un passaggio. We would have taken the bus if you had not given us a ride.

When used to express an action that was supposed to have happened in the past (without an "if"), the main verb can be in four past indicative tenses: the passato prossimo, the imperfetto, the passato remoto, and the trapassato prossimo.

For example:

  • Ho pensato che ti sarebbe piaciuto il mio regalo. I thought that you would have liked my present.
  • Pensavano che ti avrei portata a cena stasera, ma non potevo. They thought that I would have taken you to dinner tonight, but I couldn't.
  • Il nonno disse che ci sarebbe venuto a prendere. Grandfather said that he would have come to get us.
  • Il professore aveva già deciso che mi avrebbe bocciata anche se prendevo un buon voto. The professor had already decided that he would flunk/would have flunked me even if I got a good grade.

So, going back to our two sentences from the top about the two uses of the condizionale passato:

  • Avrei portato il pane se avessi saputo che non c'era. I would have brought bread if I had known there would be/was none.

And:

  • Ci avevano detto che altri avrebbero portato il pane. They told us that others would have brought bread.

Agreements

Note a few things:

With verbs that take avere, in compound tenses and with direct object pronouns, the pronouns and the past participle have to agree with the object gender and number:

  • Se tu mi avessi dato i libri, te li avrei portati. If you had given me the books, I would have brought them to you.
  • Se la mamma avesse fatto le frittelle, le avrei mangiate tutte. If mom had made fritters, I would have eaten them all.

And, as usual in compound tenses, with verbs that take essere, your past participle has to agree with the gender and number of the subject:

  • Non saremmo usciti se non ci foste venuti a prendere. We would not have gone out had you not come to get us.
  • Promisero che sarebbero venuti a trovarci. They promised that they would have come to see us.
  • Luca e Giulia si sarebbero sposati anche se noi non volevamo. Luca and Giulia would have gotten married even if we had not wanted them to.

With Modal Helping Verbs

As always with modal verbs, they adopt the auxiliary of the verb they are helping. The same agreement rules apply.

  • Saremmo dovuti andare a trovarli. We should have gone to see them.
  • Luca sarebbe potuto venire con noi. Luca could have come with us.
  • Mi sarei dovuta svegliare presto. I should have gotten up early.
  • Avrei voluto mostrarti la mia casa, e sarei voluta venire con te a vedere la tua. I would have liked to show you my house, and I would have wanted to come with you to see yours.

Buono studio!