Updated: Jan 21
The conditional (le conditionnel) is a mood.
Whereas tenses refer to time, moods refer to manners of expression.
The conditional is used to talk about things that would happen under certain conditions.
It is also used to ask for something politely or say what you would like, to make a suggestion or to give advice.
In English, the conditional is shown by using the modal would (or its shorter form: 'd) followed by the verb.
I would buy a new car if I had the money.
I'd buy a new car if I had the money.
Note that the second part of the sentence "If I had the money" does not use the conditional.
In French, the modal "would" cannot be translated, instead we conjugate the verb in the conditional.
How to conjugate in the conditional:
Step 1: Take the conditional stem of the verb
For -ER and -IR verbs: the conditional stem is the same as the infinitive
For -RE verbs: remove the final -e from the infinitive
Note that the conditional stem of the verb is the same as the future stem.
Step 2: add the correct endings
Endings for the conditional are: -ais, -ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient
Note that the endings for the conditional are the same as the endings for the imperfect tense.
See the table below for the conjugation of the verbs parler, choisir and perdre in the conditional:
Je parlerais plus fort. I would speak louder.
Nous choisirions une meilleure destination. We would choose a better destination.
Elles perdraient trop d'argent. They would lose too much money.
Spelling irregularities with -ER verbs:
Some -ER verbs have spelling irregularities. Here are the most common ones:
- for verbs ending in -eler (like appeler): the letter 'l' is doubled when conjugated in the conditional. This affects the pronunciation of the first e (which becomes an "ay" sound).
- for verbs ending in -eter (like jeter): the letter "t" is doubled when conjugated in the conditional. This affects the pronunciation of the first e (which becomes an "ay" sound).
Note that acheter is an exception -see below
-for verbs in -oyer (like nettoyer): the letter y changes to an i.
-for verbs in -ayer (like payer): there are two possible spellings with either a y or an i.
-for verbs such as lever and acheter: the first e changes to è.
See the table below for the conjugation of appeler, jeter, nettoyer, payer and acheter in the conditional:
- The pronoun "je" becomes "j'" when the next word starts with a vowel, the letters h or y.
- These -ER verbs irregularities are also seen in the future tense.
Irregular verbs in the conditional:
Some verbs have irregular stems. Their stems must be learnt as they do not follow the rule seen above.
Here are the most common irregular stems:
Note that the conditional irregular stems are the same as the future tense irregular stems.
Reflexive verbs in the conditional:
The conditional of reflexive verbs is formed in the same way as other verbs, with the exception of the reflexive pronouns (me, te, se, nous, vous, se) which must be included.
The reflexive pronoun is placed before the verb.
See below the conjugation of s'entendre (to get along):
Note that me, te and se become m', t' and s' if the next word starts with a vowel, the letter h or the letter y.
For negative sentences, ne...pas goes around the conjugated verb, including the reflexive pronoun.
Example: je ne m'entendrais pas avec sa mère. I would not get along with his mother.
For French A Level students with any exam board:
This workbook is excellent to practise all the grammar you need to know in the first year of your A-level course.
For French GCSE students with any exam board:
The handbook on the left gives you easy to understand descriptions and rules for all the grammar aspects you need to know at GCSE level. The workbook on the right contains a series of activities to help you practise these aspects. Answers are provided at the back so you can check your work.
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