French Tip: Always 'Si Vous Voulez.' Never 'Si Vous Voudriez"

Want to say 'if you would like' in French? 'Si vous voulez.' Never 'voudriez.'

Couple kissing in park near Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
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Mistakes will always be made in French, and now you can learn from them.

In English, "I would like" is softer and more polite than "I want," and French has a similar distinction. Instead of je veux (present), one says je voudrais (conditional). But there's a snag in this equation: English speakers want to say the polite "if you like" or "if you would like," and they often end up translating this into French as si vous voudriez.

The Mistake

But si vous voudriez would be a mistake. In French, you can't say si vous voudriez to mean "if you would like," because the French conditional can never be used after si ("if"). You can only say si vous voulez. This goes for the whole conditional conjugation: For instance, si je voudrais is wrong. But you can say si je veux. And si tu voudrais is not possible. But you can say si tu veux.

Memorize every person in the conditional present of vouloir to recognize what to avoid in polite statements that include a si clause:

  • je voudrais
  • tu voudrais
  • il voudrait
  • nous voudrions
  • vous voudriez
  • ils voudraient

Vouloir and Polite Requests

The verb vouloir ("to want" or "to wish"), one of the most common French verbs and one of the most useful irregular verbs, also beautifully expresses polite requests in the conditional without a si clause present.

   Je voudrais une pomme. > I would like an apple.

   Je voudrais y aller avec vous. > I would like to go with you.

In general, the French conditional mood is very similar to the English conditional mood. It describes events that are not guaranteed to occur; often they are dependent on certain conditions. While the French conditional mood has a full set of conjugations, the English equivalent is just the modal verb "would" plus a main verb.

The French conditional is mainly used in if...then sentences to express what would happen if a condition were met. The conditional is in the result (then) part of the clause, not the clause that follows si ("if").

   Si nous étudiions, nous serions plus intelligents.
   
If we studied, (then) we would be smarter.

Additional Resources 

Conditional
Si clauses
Politeness
All about vouloir
Conjugate vouloir