Would Have, Could Have, Should Have: In French That's Past Conditional

Conjugating the French Conditional Perfect: "He would have come, if...."

Grenelle
The French city of Grenelle. PEC Photo / Getty Images

The French conditional perfect, or past conditional, is usually used very much like the English past conditional: It expresses action that would have occurred if past circumstances had been different.

How to Construct the French Conditional Perfect

There are commonly two parts to a past conditional sentence: a si clause with the unmet condition in the past perfect, and a result clause in the conditional perfect.

Think a past version of "if...then."

   Si je l'avais vu, je l'aurais acheté.
   If I had seen it, I would have bought it.

   Il serait venu si nous l'avions invité.
   He would have come if we had invited him.

The conditional perfect can also be used when the unmet condition is only implied:

   À ta place, je l'aurais dit.
   In your place, I would have said it.

   Elles auraient dû acheter un plan.
   They should have bought a map.

Use the conditional perfect to express an unrealized desire in the past:

   J'aurais aimé te voir, mais j'ai dû travailler.
   I would have liked to see you, but I had to work.

   Nous aurions voulu manger, mais c'était trop tard.
   We would have liked to eat, but it was too late.

The conditional perfect can also report an uncertain / unverified fact, especially in the news:

   Il y aurait eu un accident dans le métro.
   An accident in the subway has been reported.

   Six Parisiens seraient morts.


   Apparently, six Parisians have been killed.

Additional Resources

Quiz: French conditional perfect
Second Form of the French Conditional Perfect

How to Conjugate the French Conditional

The French conditional perfect mood, or past conditional, is a compound conjugation, with these two parts:

  1. conditional of the auxiliary verb (either avoir or être)
  2. past participle of the main verb

Note: Like all French compound conjugations, the conditional perfect may be subject to grammatical agreement:

  • When the auxiliary verb is être, the past participle must agree with the subject
  • When the auxiliary verb is avoir, the past participle may have to agree with its direct object

Some French Conditional Perfect Conjugations

     
AIMER (auxiliary verb is avoir)
j'aurais aimé nousaurions aimé
tuaurais aimé vousauriez aimé
il,
elle 
aurait aimé ils,
elles 
auraient aimé
     
DEVENIR (être verb)
jeserais devenu(e) nousserions devenu(e)s
tuserais devenu(e) vousseriez devenu(e)(s)
ilserait devenu ilsseraient devenus
elle serait devenue ellesseraient devenues
     
SE LAVER (pronominal verb)
jeme serais lavé(e) nousnous serions lavé(e)s
tute serais lavé(e) vousvous seriez lavé(e)(s)
ilse serait lavé ilsse seraient lavés
elle se serait lavée ellesse seraient lavées