Le conditionnel

from http://www.laits.utexas.edu/tex/gr/tac1.html
The conditional is used to refer to hypothetical events. It occurs in polite requests and most frequently with if clauses. In French, it is called le conditionnel and is most often translated by would in English.

formation
The stem used to form the conditional is the same as the stem of the future (usually the infinitive). The conditional endings are -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient (These are also the imperfect endings).

audio
jouer  ‘to play’
je jouerais, I would play nous jouerions, we would play
tu jouerais, you would play vous joueriez, you would play
il, elle / on jouerait,
he, she (it) /would play
ils / elles joueraient, they would play


The above formation works for -er verbs (aimer, j’aimerais), -ir verbs (finir, je finirais) and -re verbs (vendre, je vendrais). Remember to drop the final e from the infinitive stem of -re verbs .

pronunciation
The r in the stem is representative of the conditional, as well as the future. Only the difference in the pronunciation of the endings distinguishes the two. The difference between the je forms is subtle. Can you hear the differences? Note also how the e of the infinitive of -er verbs changes in the future and conditional forms.

audio
regarder  ‘to look at’
future conditional
je regarderai je regarderais
tu regarderas tu regarderais
il / elle regardera il / elle regarderait
nous regarderons nous regarderions
vous regarderez vous regarderiez
ils / elles regarderont ils / elles regarderaient


irregular stems
Verbs with irregular future stems use the same irregular stems in the conditional. Here is a list of the most common irregular stems:

audio
infinitive stem conditional translation
aller ir- j’irais I would go
avoir aur- j’aurais I would have
courir courr- je courrais I would run
devoir devr- je devrais I would be obliged to
envoyer enverr- j’enverrais I would send
être ser- je serais I would be
faire fer- je ferais I would do
falloir faudr- il faudrait it would be necessary
mourir mourr- je mourrais I would die
obtenir obtiendr- j’obtiendrais Iwould obtain
pleuvoir pleuvr- il pleuvrait it would rain
pouvoir pourr- je pourrais I would be able
recevoir recevr- je recevrais I would receive
savoir saur- je saurais I would know
tenir tiendr- je tiendrais I would hold
venir viendr- je viendrais I would come
voir verr- je verrais I would see
vouloir voudr- je voudrais I would want


verbs with spelling changes
Some verbs with spelling changes in the present form their future/conditional stem regularly. These include verbs like préférer, espérer, manger, and commencer.

audio
infinitive stem conditional translation
préférer préférer- je préférerais I would prefer
espérer espérer- j’espérerais I would hope
manger manger- je mangerais I would eat
commencer commencer- je commencerais I would start


Verbs with spelling changes like appeler, employer and acheter add -r to the present of the je form to create their future stem.

audio
present tense stem conditional translation
j’appelle appeller- j’appellerais I would call
j’emploie emploier- j’emploierais I would use
j’achète achèter- j’achèterais I would buy


uses

• wishes or requests
hamburger The conditional expresses potentiality. It is used to express a wish or a suggestion, to make a request, or to accept or extend invitations. It is less direct and more polite than the imperative. The verbs ‘pouvoir’, ‘vouloir’, and ‘devoir’ are often found in the conditional to diminish the strength of a command. In most cases, the conditional is translated as meaning would in English. However, je pourrais means ‘I could’, je devrais means ‘I should’ and je voudrais means ‘I would like’. Also do not confuse ‘would’ in English meaning ‘used to’ which should be translated as an imparfait in French, and NOT as the conditional: A Paris, Joe-Bob allait au MacDo tous les jours. (In Paris, Joe-Bob would/used to go to McDonald’s everyday).

audio
Joe-Bob et Tammy se trouvent au restaurant où Edouard travaille comme serveur. Joe-Bob and Tammy are at the restaurant where Edouard works as a waiter.
Edouard: Bonsoir Madame, Monsieur. Aimeriez-vous commander un apéritif pour commencer? Edouard: Good evening, would you like to order drinks to start?
Tammy: Oh oui! Pourrions-nous avoir un Ricard et un Perrier? Ensuite, je voudrais une salade verte, s’il vous plaît. Tammy: Oh yes, could we have one Ricard and one Perrier? Then I would like a green salad, please.
Joe-Bob: Je veux un hamburger. Joe-Bob: I want a hamburger.
Edouard: Monsieur, vous devriez être plus poli dans ce restaurant, sinon, je pourrais oublier votre commande! Edouard: Sir, you should be more polite in this resaurant, or else I could forget your order!


• hypothetical action
The conditional is used when making statements which are contrary to present facts. It expresses a hypothethical result which depends on (stated or implied) circumstances which do not exist. In order for the action expressed by the conditional to occur, something else must take place first. Note that the condition in the si or if clause, is always stated in the imparfait. (See ‘si’ clauses for further examples.)

audio
Tex et Joe-Bob regardent la télé. ‘Le gros lot se monte à 30 millions de dollars. Que feriez-vous si vous gagniez?’ Tex and Joe-Bob are watching television. ‘The Lottery is at 30 million dollars. What would you do if you won?’
Tex: Moi, j’écrirais sans cesse des livres de philosophie. Tex: I would write philosophy books non-stop.
Joe-Bob: Moi j’achèterais mon diplôme d’université. Joe-Bob: I would buy my university diploma.


• possibility or uncertainty
The conditional is also used to give information whose accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Journalists often use it to report events which are not known to be true.

audio
Tammy et Bette regardent la télé. Soudain, leur programme préféré est interrompu et un commentateur annonce: Tammy and Bette are watching television. Suddenly, their favorite program is interrupted and a commentator announces:
‘Une tornade vient de s’abattre sur Hubbard, Texas. Il y aurait plusieurs victimes. Un tatou et un écureuil seraient gravement blessés. Restez avec nous, nous devrions avoir plus de détails d’ici quelques secondes …’ ‘A tornado just struck in Hubbard, Texas. Allegedly, there are several casualties. An armadillo and a squirrel seem to be seriously wounded. Stay with us, we should have more details in a few seconds …’
Presque immédiatement, le téléphone sonne. Tammy répond: A …, Allô?’ Almost immediately, the phone rings. Tammy answers: ‘He …, Hello?’
A l’autre bout, Tex dit: ‘Tammy, c’est moi, Tex. Ne t’inquiète pas, on va très bien. Je rentrerai bientôt.’ At the other end, Tex says: ‘Tammy, it’s me Tex. Don’t worry we’re fine. I’ll be home soon.’


reported speech (indirect discourse)
In addition, the conditional is used to represent the future in relation to a narration in the past when reported speech is used to tell what someone said.

audio
Tex a dit qu’il rentrerait bientôt. Tex said he would be home soon.