Le conditionnel

In English, we use the modal “would” plus a verb to talk about actions that may or may not take place, usually depending on whether a certain condition is met. The French equivalent to this construction is a conditional mood with a full set of conjugations for every verb. The uses of these two constructions are very similar.

Si clauses

The most common use of the French conditional is in the result (then) clause of conditional sentences (aka si clauses), which describe what would happen if some condition were met.

Par exemple…

Je t’appellerais si j’avais des nouvelles /
Si j’avais des nouvelles, je t’appellerais.
I would call you if I had any news /
If I had any news, I would call you.
Tu réussirais à l’examen si tu étudiais /
Si tu étudiais, tu réussirais à l’examen.
You’d pass the test if you studied /
If you studied, you’d pass the test.

Polite requests

Vouloir (to want) can be used in the conditional to ask for something.

Par exemple…

Je voudrais vous accompagner. I would like to go with you.
Nous voudrions commander maintenant. We’d like to order now.

Fais gaffe ! Si + conditional

The use of the conditional after si is somewhat restricted.

  1. It’s not used with vouloir because you’re already asking about what someone wants, so using the conditional on top of that is overcautious in French. Bref, don’t translate “if you would like” as si vous voudriez – the correct translation is si vous voulez.
  2. The conditional cannot be used after si in if … then … clauses.
  3. However, the conditional can be used after si in indirect speech, such as Je me demande s’il travaillerait pour nous. “I wonder if he’d work for us.” (lesson coming soon).

Wishful thinking

Aimer (to like) can be used in the conditional to talk about wanting to do something that you may not be able to do.

Par exemple…

J’aimerais voir un film, mais je dois étudier. I’d like to see a movie, but I have to study.
Nous aimerions y être avec toi. We’d like to be there with you, We wish we could be there with you.

From www.lawlessfrench.com