The conditional in French

The conditional verb form is used in French with similar functions to the formula would ... (or 'd) in English. That is, it is mainly used:

  • to express future-in-the-past, as in he said he would leave;
  • to express a potential or hypothetical event, often accompanied by an if ... clause with a past verb: I'd be very upset if he couldn't come;
  • for pragmatic functions such as to express politeness (I'd like ...) or conjecture (I'd say ...).

There are a few uses of the conditional in French whose parallels don't use would in English. And conversely some uses of would in English aren't usually translated by a conditional in French. We'll look at those later.

How to form the conditional in French

The conditional is easy to form if you know the future tense form of the verb in question:

The conditional is formed by adding the imperfect tense endings to the future stem of the verb.

Here are some examples:

VerbFuture stemConditional formEnglish translation
(to) give
donner- je donnerais
tu donnerais
il donnerait
nous donnerions
vous donneriez
ils donneraient
I'd give
you'd give
(to) drink
boir- je boirais
tu boirais
il boirait
nous boirions
vous boiriez
ils boiraient
I'd drink
you'd drink
(to) come
viendr- je viendrais
tu viendrais
il viendrait
nous viendrions
vous viendriez
ils viendraient
I'd come
you'd come

Recall that for most verbs, including many otherwise irregular verbs, the future stem is the infinitive minus any final -e. But a handful of verbs have irregular future stems.

 French grammar index
 French-English dictionary
 English-French dictionary

This page written by Neil Coffey. Copyright © Javamex UK 2017. All rights reserved.