Italian-conditional

How to Use the Italian Conditional

What do you do when you want to daydream in Italian? Make plans and plan Bs? Or just ask, “what if…?”

This is when you’ll need the Italian conditional.

The conditional is used for situations that are as simple as making polite requests and as complex as imagining an alternate reality and its consequences. 

In this post, you’ll get a primer on the Italian conditional, learn its conjugations and see how it’s used in different contexts.

Contents


What Is the Italian Conditional?

The conditional, or il condizionale, is one of the four moods in Italian. It’s used to express hypothetical or uncertain situations, polite requests and wishes. It’s often translated into English as “would” or “could” plus a verb. 

The conditional is commonly used in situations where the outcome depends on a condition, expressing what would happen under certain circumstances. For example: 

Io parlerei italiano se fosse facile. — I would speak Italian if it were easy.

This is the present conditional, but there’s also a past conditional that can be used to talk about hypothetical situations in the past:

Se avessi saputo della festa, sarei venuto. (If I had known about the party, I would have come.)

How to Form the Italian Conditional

To use this mood correctly, it’s important to know how to conjugate verbs, both regular and irregular. 

Regular Conjugation in the Present Conditional  

Regular –are and –ere verbs get the same endings in the present conditional, while -ire verb endings are different by one letter: 

-are and -ere verb endings-ire verb endings
-erei-irei
-eresti-irei
-erebbe-irebbe
-eremmo-iremmo
-ereste-ireste
-erebbero-irebbero

Let’s look at the regular verb parlare  (to speak) as an example. The –are ending is removed and the following bolded endings are added:

ItalianEnglish
io parlerei I would speak
tu parleresti you (singular, informal) would speak
lui/lei/Lei parlerebbe he/she/you (singular, formal) would speak
noi parleremmo we would speak
voi parlereste you (plural) would speak
loro parlerebbero they would speak

Now, let’s look at the example of fuggire  (to escape, to run away). We remove the –ire ending and add conditional endings as follows:

ItalianEnglish
io fuggirei I would escape
tu fuggiresti you (singular, informal) would escape
lui/lei/Lei fuggirebbe he/she/you (singular, formal) would escape
noi fuggiremmo we would escape
voi fuggireste you (plural) would escape
loro fuggirebbero they would escape

There are some spelling changes for certain verbs in the conditional. These are to ensure that the pronunciation of the last consonant in the stem remains consistent once the conditional endings are added: 

Irregular Italian Conditionals

There are some irregularities in the stems of some verbs in the present conditional. These are the same irregularities you’ve already seen if you’ve studied the simple future tense.

For example, the common verb essere  (to be) undergoes some odd changes: 

ItalianEnglish
io sarei I would be
tu saresti you (singular, informal) would be
lui/lei/Lei sarebbe he/she/you (singular, formal) would be
noi saremmo we would be
voi sareste you (plural) would be
loro sarebbero they would be

Here are some additional common irregular verbs in the conditional that you should be aware of. It’s easiest to think of them as falling into two groups when you’re preparing to study them.

In the first group, the first vowel of the ending gets eliminated. Otherwise, the endings are the same.

Andare  (to go)io andrei, tu andresti, lui andrebbe, etc…
Avere  (to have)io avrei
Cadere  (to fall)io cadrei
Dare (to give)io darei
Dovere  (to have to, must)io dovrei
Fare  (to make, to do)io farei
Potere  (to be able to) io potrei
Sapere  (to know)io saprei
Stare  (to be) io starei
Vedere  (to see)io vedrei
Vivere (to live)io vivrei

In the second group of irregulars, Italian contracted infinitives get shortened as is their tendency, and the first vowel of the ending is dropped, which leaves a double r

Once again, the endings remain otherwise the same for each pronoun: 

Bere  (to drink)io berrei, tu berresti, lui berrebbe,  etc…
Condurre  (to drive) io condurrei
Tenere (to hold, to keep)io terrei
Venire  (to come)io verrei
Volere  (to want)io vorrei

When to Use the Italian Present Conditional

Being Extra Polite

The easiest way to use the Italian conditional is for simple, very polite requests like ordering food and drinks with vorrei… (I would like…), from the verb volere  (to want).

Now that you know the conjugations, you can also use it in the plural:

Vorremmo tre birre per favore. (We’d like three beers, please.)

But this use isn’t just for the verb volere. The conditional can also be used to “lighten up” phrases, especially when you’re asking for something.

Mi compreresti uno zaino per favore? (Would you buy a backpack for me, please?)

Quali date andrebbero bene per te? (Which dates would be good for you? — Literally “would go well…”)

Hypothetical Events

The Italian conditional is also used to express hypothetical situations or possibilities:

Ti faresti più amici in città. (You’d make more friends in the city.)

Saremmo più felici con un cane. (We’d be happier with a dog.)

Andrei in treno, ma non posso permettermi il biglietto. (I’d go by train, but I can’t afford the ticket.)

Dovrebbe venire Raffaella, ma non ho molto fiducia in lei. (Raffaella is supposed to come, but I don’t have much faith in her.)

The conditional along with the verb dovere  (to have to, must) can be translated as “should” or “is supposed to,” among other things. This is a common way of talking about what’s meant to happen.

You’ll also use the conditional if you pose hypothetical questions:

Come vivreste nei miei panni? (How would you live [if you were] in my shoes?)

Here are a few more relatively simple examples that employ the conditional:

Nel caso che ci siano dubbi, potresti domandare a me. (If you should have any doubts, you could ask me.)

Questo le farebbe impazzire. (This would blow her mind.)

La canzone dice che la vita sarebbe orribile senza il vino. The song says that life would be horrible without wine.

Conditional + se (if) + Imperfect Subjunctive

A related use of the conditional is in combination with the imperfect (past) subjunctive. Here’s a simple example.

Se avessimo i soldi, andremmo in vacanza. (If we had the money, we’d go on vacation.)

The word avessimo is the imperfect subjunctive of avere (to have) and andremmo is the conditional of andare (to go).

The order can be changed around, but note that the word se (if) always sticks with the imperfect subjunctive. You don’t use se just before the conditional.

With this construction, you can up all kinds of situations and then say what would result:

Vivrei ancora a casa se non avessi trovato questo lavoro. (I’d still be living at home if I hadn’t got this job.)

Se si prendesse una pausa dal lavoro, sarebbe meno stressato. (If he took some time off work, he’d be less stressed.)
 
Risparmierebbero soldi se prendessero l’autobus per andare al lavoro. (They’d save money if they took the bus to work.)
 
Se avessimo i documenti, rimarremmo in Italia per sempre. (If we had documents, we’d stay in Italy forever.)

The Past Conditional in Italian

The past conditional, or condizionale passato, is used to talk about past hypotheticals and to recount what someone else said, which we call indirect speech. 

To form the past conditional, put the verb avere or essere in the conditional form and then add the past participle of the main verb. This is similar to the way we form the future perfect tense. For example:  avrei finito (I would’ve finished).

Like in the present conditional, this verb form is often used in hypothetical “if” clauses:

Se avessi avuto più tempo, avrei finito di leggere quel libro. (If I had had more time, I would’ve finished reading that book.)

Saremmo arrivati ​​in orario se non ci fossimo fermati a prendere un caffè. (We would’ve arrived on time if we hadn’t stopped for coffee.)

Se Valeria avesse vinto alla lotteria, avrebbe viaggiato per il mondo. (If Valeria had won the lottery, she would’ve traveled around the world.)

As well as for reported or indirect speech:

Ha detto che avrebbe lavato i piatti. (He said that he would wash the dishes.)

Ho promesso a mia madre che avrei fatto i compiti. (I promised my mom that I would do my homework.)

This is slightly different than in English, where we would use the present conditional for the indirect speech. Check out this post to learn more about the Italian past conditional

Practice Resources for the Italian Conditional

To master all of the conjugation and usage details, try writing sentences about yourself using the structures above. Or create your own hypothetical Italian situations based on what you dream up: what would happen if you fell in love with an Italian? Or, what would you do if someone stole your wallet?

Once you think you’ve perfected your practice sentences, ask a language partner or tutor to check them. Correct your sentences together and then try to see if you can make new ones in conversation by re-using the words and structures.

You can find plenty of additional practice resources online. For example: 

 

There’s a lot of information in this post, but don’t worry—you don’t have to learn it all at once!

Bookmark this page and come back to it. It can serve as a useful guide to pair with some practice resources until you feel confident using the Italian conditional.

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