You start your French studies by making indicative sentences—that is, just declaring things that are factual.
In programming, you start by telling a computer to do something, the same thing, every time you execute the code.
Now, imagine the power you feel when you learn how to make your program do different things with “if-then” statements.
Just like with different results in programming, we can talk about different scenarios with si clauses in French.
Being able to talk about the abstract, the possible or the doubtful is a hallmark of intermediate and advanced French language skills. It’s one of the most fundamental criteria you need to meet to move your French beyond the beginner level.
All si clauses in French have two basic parts: the conditional clause (if) and the result clause (then). Note that in French, for si clauses, there’s not exactly an equivalent to “then” in English.
In a sentence, the conditional clause is the part that uses si (if). It can go either at the beginning or the end of the sentence. Check this out:
Si tu veux apprendre, va à l’école. (If you want to learn, go to school.)
Here, the conditional clause, si tu veux apprendre (if you want to learn), is at the beginning of the sentence.
Likewise, I can put the conditional clause at the end.
Va à l’école si tu veux apprendre. (Go to school if you want to learn.)
Just like in English, we can change the position of si (if) and preserve the meaning. Note that we’re using ( tu ) va instead of (tu) vas because we’re using the imperative conjugation (giving orders).
The result clause is the part of the sentence that describes what happens, will happen, would happen or would’ve happened in the event of the conditional clause. Even if words in French for “then” exist ( ensuite , puis ), they’re not used here like in English.
Note the absence of “then.”
Si is a versatile word in French that can be translated several different ways. In addition to “if,” si can mean “yes” when we’re contradicting a statement.
Mais si je veux y aller ! (But I do want to go!)
It can also mean “so.”
Il est si intelligent que… (He is so smart that…)
As I explained above, the tense we use in our “if” clause determines whether we’re talking about events that might happen, could’ve happened, will probably happen, etc.
It’s very important to understand the tense combinations in the three clauses. Let’s check out the first conditional clause.
The first conditional clause is used to describe likely events. The conditional clause has to be in the present tense, but the result clause can be in the present, future or imperative.
Si nous avons de l’argent, elle nous vend des boissons. (If we have money, she sells us drinks.)
In this case, we’re talking about something that always happens: if A, then B.
Il m’aidera si j’ai des problèmes. (He will help me if I have problems.)
Here, we’re talking about something that will definitely happen if a certain condition is met. Note how I switched the result clause.
Si tu veux voyager, voyage ! (If you want to travel, travel!)
Here, we’re giving a command if a condition is met. Note the imperative conjugation of voyager (to travel).
The second conditional clause describes events that are less likely to happen. It requires an imperfect verb in the conditional clause and a conditional verb in the result clause. (Note that the conditional mood is not the same thing as a conditional clause).
Check this out:
Si je n’avais pas autant d’argent, je ne pourrais pas acheter cette voiture. (If I didn’t have so much money, I could not buy this car.)
We start with the conditional clause, si je n’avais pas autant d’argent (if I didn’t have so much money), which is describing something that’s the opposite of what’s happening. By saying I couldn’t buy the car if I didn’t have so much money, I’m implying I have the money to buy it.
Finally, the result clause describes what would happen if the opposite situation existed: je ne pourrais pas acheter cette voiture (I could not buy this car).
Let’s look at an example where we switch the result and conditional clauses:
Tu n’apprendrais pas le français si tu ne pratiquais pas. (You would not learn French if you didn’t practice.)
Finally, we have the third conditional clause, which describes events that cannot happen (impossibility). It’s similar to the second conditional clause but with a few key differences.
These events are impossible because they describe something that could’ve happened in the past but didn’t, and obviously we can’t change the past. Since we’re talking about past events, we need the pluperfect in the conditional clause and the past conditional in the result clause.
Let’s see an example:
Si je l’avais vu je me serais arrêté. (If I had seen it I would have stopped.)
Both the conditional clause, si je l’avais vu (if I had seen it), and the result clause, je me serais arrêté (I would have stopped), describe events completely in the past, so they’re impossible to change.
Like in the other two cases, we can switch the result and conditional clauses:
J’aurais dit quelque chose si tu n’étais pas venu. (I would have said something if you had not come.)
The University of Texas at Austin hosts this great website with hundreds of French lessons available to the public. They have a very detailed article on si clauses in French that describes the three clauses with written and audio examples.
I personally like how they highlight the keywords to indicate which of the three are being used. Scroll to the bottom of the page for a great practice exercise where you have to fill in the blanks.
With this immersive language learning program, you can see and dissect si clauses (and other French words or phrases) in context.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
This site puts students in contact with native language teachers. They offer great lessons on all aspects of French, including si clauses. On their instructional page, coLanguage does a good job of explaining si clauses. They also group the different types of clauses by time (past, present and future).
Scroll to the bottom of the page for several different types of exercises on si clauses, including multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank and word bank.
As in so many cases where a student wants to practice French grammar, ToLearn French.com is the place to be. No other website groups together so many French exercises in one place.
You can find exercise pages for si clauses, including this one.
Since ToLearnFrench.com focuses on exercises, the introductory explanations are a little shorter than in the other resources, but the site makes up for this with the sheer number of exercises available.
Now that we’ve covered the different types of si clauses in French, it’s time to practice them! As well as using the resources listed above, another fun way to practice si clauses is through translation.
Try translating these si clauses into English:
1. S’il n’a pas de devoirs, il va au parc avec ses amis.
2. Si elle a un examen, elle va à la bibliothèque pour étudier.
3. Si je réussis mes examens, j’irai à l’université et j’étudierai la physique.
4. Si j’ai de la fièvre demain, j’irai à l’hôpital.
5. Si tu veux apprendre le français, étudie.
6. Si tu as besoin d’aide, fais-le moi savoir.
7. Si je n’aimais pas étudier, je ne serais pas à l’université.
8. Si j’avais plus d’argent, je voyagerais dans le monde avec mes amis.
9. Si je n’étais pas allé(e) en France, je n’aurais pas rencontré mon meilleur ami/ma meilleure amie.
10. Si je m’étais réveillé(e) plus tôt, j’aurais été à l’heure.
1. If he doesn’t have any homework, he goes to the park with his friends.
2. If she has an exam, she goes to the library to study.
3. If I pass my exams, I will go to university and study physics.
4. If I have a fever tomorrow, I will go to the hospital.
5. If you want to learn French, study.
6. If you need help, let me know.
7. If I didn’t like studying, I wouldn’t be at university.
8. If I had more money, I would travel the world with my friends.
9. If I hadn’t gone to France, I wouldn’t have met my best friend.
10. If I had woken up earlier, I would have been on time.
Although it takes a little practice and some memorization, mastering French si clauses will make your French much more flavorful!
Bonne chance ! (Good luck!)
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