The Ultimate Guide to Spanish Conditional Tenses
How much time do you spend talking about things that could have happened? Or things that could still happen in the future? I’d venture to say quite a bit.
And how do we talk about them? Whether it’s in English or Spanish, we use the conditional tense!
This post will show you how to use the Spanish conditional and give you the confidence you need to talk about all kinds of possibilities with the conditional!
- What Are Spanish Conditionals?
- The Conditional Tense
- Types of Conditional
What Are Spanish Conditionals?
Spanish conditionals are used to talk about things that are hypothetical, things that could be or could have been.
Like in English, Spanish conditionals can indicate varying degrees of possibility in the present, future and past. They can talk about things that might happen in the future, things that didn’t happen in the past and things that couldn’t possibly happen but we like to talk about them anyway.
It is possible to divide both Spanish and English conditionals into four categories: zero, first, second and third conditionals.
This post will examine the Spanish conditional tense in its basic form and then dive into these four different types of conditionals.
The Conditional Tense
Spanish has two different conditional tenses, the simple conditional (el condicional simple) and the conditional perfect (el condicional compuesto). Let’s look at how these two forms differ and how we actually use them.
The simple conditional is what most people actually mean when they say the “conditional” tense. This tense typically applies to things that could happen now or could happen in the future.
There are two things for you to bear in mind when conjugating the conditional tense:
- All three verb types (-ar/-er/-ir) have the same endings.
- You add the endings to the infinitive.
These rules make the conjugation of the simple conditional very straight-forward.
Regular Verbs in the Conditional Tense
-ar Verbs: Cantar (to sing)
-er Verbs: Comer (to eat)
-ir Verbs: Vivir (to live)
Note that all of the endings added to the infinitive are the same.
Irregular Verbs in the Conditional Tense
When it comes to irregular verbs, the list is very, very short, and they are verbs we use every day, so the best solution is to learn their irregularities by heart.
It’s just the stem that slightly changes, so rather than using the infinitive, you’ll use the bolded stems listed below and add the same endings that you add to the regular verbs:
- salir saldr- (to leave/go out)
- tenir tendr– (to have)
- valer valdr– (to cost/be worth)
- querer querr– (to want/love)
- decir dir– (to say/tell)
- hacer har– (to do/make)
- poner pondr– (to put/place)
- venir vendr– (to come)
- caber cabr– (to fit)
- haber habr– (have)
- saber sabr– (to know)
Here is the irregular verb haber fully conjugated in the simple conditional.
Uses of the Simple Conditional Tense
1. To express future in the past.
Me dijo que se casaría conmigo.
(He told me he would marry me).
Le dije que eso me haría muy feliz.
(I told him that would make me very happy).
2. To speculate about the past.
Se casarían a las 4 de la tarde.
(They must have gotten married at 4 p.m.)
Esa sería la razón por la que se enamoró de ella.
(That must have been the reason he fell in love with her.)
3. To express softening or deference (usually with requests).
Querría ser tu esposo.
(I would like to be your husband.)
Me encantaría pasar un fin de semana romántico en Barcelona.
(I would love to spend a romantic weekend in Barcelona.)
4. To indicate a present or future hypothesis, or what would happen if there weren’t any obstacles at the moment of speaking.
Me casaría contigo pero antes debo ahorrar.
(I would marry you, but I have to save some money first.)
Viajaríamos a París pero no podemos.
(We would travel to Paris but we can’t.)
5. To talk about events which might or might not occur.
Sería romántico casarse en Madrid.
(It would be romantic to get married in Madrid.)
Ser tu esposa sería maravilloso.
(Being your wife would be wonderful.)
6. To ask for advice.
¿Qué harías si te dejara?
(What would you do if he left you?)
¿Qué vestido comprarías para la boda?
(Which dress would you buy for the wedding?)
7. To talk about what would be done in a specific situation.
¿Te casarías con él?
(Would you marry him?)
¿Le dirías la verdad sobre tu pasado?
(Would you tell him the truth about your past?)
8. To talk about things that probably won’t happen.
We use the simple conditional along with the imperfect subjunctive to form the second conditional, which we will talk about more later in this post.
Si me lo pidiera, me casaría con él.
(If he asked me, I would marry him.)
Si pudiera, le diría la verdad sobre mi pasado.
(If I could, I would tell him the truth about my past.)
The conditional perfect is used to talk about conditionals of the best. In other words it is used to say “would have ____.” The conditional perfect is formed by the simple conditional of the verb haber and the past participle of the main verb.
The past participle of a verb is formed by taking the stem of the verb and adding -ado for -ar verbs and adding -ido for -er and -ir verbs.
I will use the verb amar (to love) as an example:
habría amado habríamos amado
habrías amado habríais amado
habría amado habrían amado
This translates to “would have loved” for each form.
Uses of the Conditional Perfect Tense
When it comes to the uses of the conditional perfect, everything becomes much easier, because we only use it in two situations:
1. To express supposition or the probability of a past situation that has already taken place.
Habría estado muy nervioso cuando le pidió matrimonio.
(He must have been very nervous when he asked her to marry him.)
Seguramente habrían perdido el avión a París.
(They had probably missed the plane to Paris.)
2. To talk about actions that would have happened but didn’t.
In most cases this use is directly related to the third conditional, which will be covered more later.
Si hubiéramos tenido dinero, nos habríamos casado el año pasado.
(If we had had money, we would have gotten married last year.)
Si no te hubiera querido, no me habría casado contigo.
(If I hadn’t loved you, I wouldn’t have married you).
Types of Conditional
Now that we know more about how the conditional tense works on a basic level, let’s look at some different types of conditional sentences.
There are two clauses, or parts, in a conditional: the if clause and the main clause. This is the same in English. Let’s take the following example: “If I had a lot of time, I would learn Spanish conditionals perfectly.”
The first half of the sentence is the if clause, the second half after the comma is the main clause. If we translate this sentence into Spanish, we’ll get a very similar sentence with two clauses. “Si tuviera mucho tiempo, aprendería los verbos condicionales en español perfectamente.“
It’s also possible to switch the order of the main and the if clause, so you could also say, “Aprendería los verbos condicionales en español perfectamente si tuviera mucho tiempo.”
There are four different types of conditional sentences that are based on this structure:
The Zero Conditional
This conditional is used to talk about things that are always or usually true. The most common example given in English textbooks is “If you heat water, it boils,” or “Si calientas el agua, hierve.”
To make the zero conditional, you need the present tense: simple present in the if clause, and simple present in the main clause.
Si + [simple present], [simple present]
Si sabes el presente, sabes el condicional zero (If you know the present tense, you know the zero conditional).
Forgotten how to form the present tense? See this post for a recap.
The First Conditional
The first conditional is used when you want to talk about how something is possible or likely, assuming that a certain condition in met.
For example: “Si llueve mañana, no iré al banco.” (If it rains tomorrow, I won’t go to the bank).
To form the first conditional, you will need the present tense for your if clause, and the future tense for your main clause.
Si + [present tense], [future tense]
Remember that with all of these you can flip the order of the clauses, but be sure to lose the comma if you do so, just as you would in English:
[future tense] + si + [present tense]
No iré al banco si llueve mañana. (I won’t go to the bank if it rains tomorrow.)
Check out this post to brush up on your future tense.
The Second Conditional
The second conditional is the tense that you use when you’re daydreaming about possibilities that probably won’t happen in real life.
For example, if your friend asks you if you want to go traveling on a round-the-world vacation for a whole year, you might say, “Si tuviera la plata, iría contigo” (If I had the money, I’d go with you).
In order to make the second conditional you need the imperfect subjunctive and the conditional tense.
Si + [imperfect subjunctive], [conditional]
See this guide on the imperfect subjunctive if you need a refresher.
The Third Conditional
The third conditional is used when you want to talk about a situation that did not happen in the past, but has imaginary consequences.
An example would be “Si hubiera sabido, te habría llamado” (If I had known, I would have called you).
To make the third conditional, take the imperfect subjunctive that we saw above, and turn it into the past perfect subjunctive
Si + [past perfect subjunctive], [past perfect subjunctive].
The past perfect subjunctive is also called the pluperfect subjunctive—and this post will jog your memory on how to use it.
So that’s it… you’ve got everything that you need to use the conditional tense in Spanish! With this skill, you’ll be talking about all kinds of hypotheticals, whether in the past, present, or future!