The Conditional Tense In Spanish: How And When To Use It
- Jada LòpezSpanish teacher, translator🎓 B.A., Translation and Interpreting English and Spanish, Universidad de Granada🎓 M.A., Formación de Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera (ELE), Universidad Pablo de Olavide
Passionate language teacher and translator. Wife, mother of 3 and amateur surfer.
Here’s a small secret about the Spanish conditional tense. Ready?
The Spanish conditional tense is… fácil. It’s easy. 😊
Just like the future tense, you should have no trouble understanding it with a little practice.
Of course, when you’re first introduced to any tense, it might take a bit of time to understand it. But the conditional tense is simple!
If you’d like to develop your understanding of the conditional tense, this post is where you’ll get the facts. And, note that this article does go into the subjunctive tense towards the end.
But let’s kick things off nice and simple by first outlining what the Spanish conditional tense is.
What is the Spanish conditional tense?
We use the Spanish conditional tense when describing situations that could (podría), would (haría) or should (debería) occur in certain circumstances.
To start with, here’s a quick example of the conditional tense being used in English:
I would love to visit several countries around the world, no doubt about it!
The word ‘would’ in the above sentence is one example of the conditional tense. This sentence can take on a different meaning with different conditional words. For example, compare the first example with these two following sentences:
I should visit several countries around the world, no doubt about it!
I could visit several countries around the world, no doubt about it!
The first of these sentences suggest that the speaker ought to visit several countries, while the second suggests they can visit several countries.
Nonetheless, they are all conditional tenses in English, which occur in certain situations (in this case, travelling around the world regardless of what other people might think).
So now let’s take a look at how these sentences would look in Spanish:
Me encantaría visitar varios países del mundo, ¡sin duda!
Debería visitar varios países del mundo, ¡sin duda!
Podría visitar varios países del mundo, ¡sin duda!
As with the English examples, all of these sentences use the conditional tense, which is indicated by the verbs at the beginning of each sentence - encantaría, debería and podría.
Now, if you noticed a pattern between those three verbs, that will give you a head start with the following section.
Vamos allá (let’s continue)!
How do you conjugate the Spanish simple conditional tense?
The pattern between all three verbs in the previous section is one way to understand how to conjugate the Spanish conditional tense.
All Spanish verbs in the conditional tense have particular verb endings.
If you wanted to say ‘they should go to the beach’ in Spanish, you would need to conjugate the verb deber (the Spanish verb for ‘should’) using the correct ending that corresponds to the right pronoun.
Here’s how you would say this in Spanish:
Deberían ir a la playa.
For the Spanish conditional tense, there are regular and irregular verb conjugations to be aware of.
Regular Spanish simple conditional tense conjugations
Regular Spanish simple conditional tense verbs are ‘regular’ because their infinitive stem doesn’t change when you’re conjugating them.
To clarify the concept of simple conditional tense verb conjugation, take a look at the following table.
It contains the endings required to correctly conjugate regular verbs in the Spanish conditional simple tense:
|Personal pronoun (English / Spanish)
|You, he, she, usted, él, ella
|You (all), vosotros
|You, they, they ustedes, ellos, ellas
If you wanted to say ‘all of you should eat less sugar each day and night and exercise more regularly’, the regular conditional verb deber in its conjugated form should be used.
Because it is classed as a regular, you can simply look at the table above for the correct ending that corresponds to the right pronoun ‘you all’ (which would be the Spanish pronoun vosotros).
Here’s how to say the above sentence in Spanish:
*Deberíais comer menos azúcar cada día y noche y hacer ejercicio con más frecuencia.*
Irregular Spanish simple conditional tense conjugations
Let’s now focus on the irregular Spanish simple conditional tense conjugations.
These are different to the regular ones and slightly trickier to understand.
For irregular Spanish simple conditional tense conjugations, the stem (or infinitive verb) does change, and you must add the correct ending as well. For this reason, different rules apply to irregular Spanish conditional verbs.
A few of the most frequently-used irregular conditional Spanish verbs include:
- Haber (to have)
- Querer (to want)
- Tener (to have)
- Poner (to put)
- Salir (to leave)
- Venir (to come)
- Saber (to know)
- Caber (to fit)
If you wanted to conjugate these verbs, here is how these infinitive stems would change:
- Haber becomes habr + conditional verb ending
- Querer becomes querr + conditional verb ending
- Tener becomes tendr + conditional verb ending
- Poner becomes pondr + conditional verb ending
- Salir becomes saldr + conditional verb ending
- Venir becomes vendr + conditional verb ending
- Saber becomes sab + conditional verb ending
- Caber becomes cabr + conditional verb ending
To make this clearer, let’s have a look at the conjugated conditional forms of querer and salir.
|usted, él, ella
|ustedes, ellos, ellas
All of these irregular conditional verbs in their conjugated forms use the roots listed above.
In other words, the conditional yo form of the verb querer would not be ‘querería’.
The root must change to the irregular form listed above, to give us querría instead.
There’s one other thing to keep in mind about the verb querer. Its conditional form is similar to its imperfect past tense. When you conjugate the imperfect past tense of querer, the root only contains one r.
The imperfect past tense of querer is quería, while the conditional tense (as mentioned) is querría.
What is the conditional si?
In Spanish, there is a little word that can be used to form conditional sentences.
This little word is si (without an accent mark). Si - (not sí) means ‘if’.
It is used in a similar way to the English equivalent of the word.
Take a look at the following example to find out how si is used:
Si tenemos tiempo, vamos al parque Santa Margarita con tus primos y amigos.
Just like that, we can form a conditional sentence using the conditional si.
Sentences like these have the main action that depends on certain conditions.
In this case, the main action is ‘going to the park’, and the condition is ‘if they have time’.
Take note of the difference between si and sí. The only orthographical difference is the accent mark. But this accent mark means the difference between saying ‘if’ and ‘yes’.
Here’s how the above example would change if we used the accent mark:
Sí tenemos tiempo, vamos al parque con tus primos y amigos.
This changes things significantly, doesn’t it? The sentence is no longer conditional.
So, the key thing here is to remember your accent marks in all situations and when you’re using the conditional si.
What is the Spanish continuous conditional tense?
The Spanish continuous conditional tense is used to mention actions that you would be continuously doing in certain situations.
Here is an example in English:
I guessed you would be eating custard tarts and scones for breakfast
The phrase ‘would be eating’ is the continuous conditional tense being used in English.
Here are a few examples of the continuous conditional tense being used in Spanish.
Pensé que estarías durmiendo la siesta a las cinco y media.
No sabía que su mujer estaría hablando por teléfono al medico a estas horas.
How do you form the Spanish continuous conditional tense?
We form the Spanish continuous conditional tense using a verb in the conditional tense and a verb in its gerund form.
Use the following formula to remember this:
Conditional verb + verb in gerund form
You can take a look at the table in the previous section to see how to conjugate a conditional verb. Then, to add a regular verb in its gerund form, take an infinitive verb, remove the AR, ER or IR and add -ando or -iendo to the end.
Use -ando for verbs ending in AR, and -iendo for EI or IR verbs.
The table below shows how we conjugate AR, ER and IR verbs in the gerund form:
In the same way that some conditional verbs have irregular stems, some verbs have an irregular stem that you will have to remember when making the gerund form.
One example of this is the verb dormir.
When conjugated in its gerund form, you need to replace the o with u and the ir with the gerund suffix -iendo.
How to use the Spanish conditional tense with the imperfect subjunctive
Now we will take things up a notch and introduce the subjunctive mood.
The conditional tense can combine with the imperfect subjunctive mood to describe an outcome that can happen but is hypothetical.
Conditional/subjunctive sentence formula
To combine the subjunctive mood with the conditional, you can use this formula to construct sentences:
Conditional verb + si + imperfect subjunctive tense
But, to clarify the use of this formula slightly more, here is an example sentence to help you:
Perderías cinco kilos si corrieras dos kilómetros y medio cada día.
In this example, we have a conditional verb perderías, the conditional si and the imperfect subjunctive tense corrieras. Now, as this is a beginner’s guide, we won’t dive into the imperfect subjunctive mood too much.
But take a look at this article on the Spanish subjunctive for more information.
The formula can work the opposite way as well, so you can invert sentences and change their structure using this formula too:
Si + imperfect subjunctive tense + conditional verb
Our example above would then become:
Si corrieras dos kilómetros y medio cada día, perderías cinco kilos.
More examples of the conditional tense and the imperfect subjunctive
Here are a few other examples of the conditional tense and the imperfect subjunctive combined. Can you spot the conditional verb?
Llegarías a la oficina a tiempo si no durmieras tanto cada mañana.
No ganarías mucho dinero si no trabajaras hasta las doce y cuarto de la noche.
Si creciera el árbol en el jardín, tendría muchas manzanas.
Si tuvierais doscientos mil euros, compraríais un chalet muy grande con ventanas grandes.
What is the Spanish perfect conditional (compound) tense?
So far, we have focused on the simple conditional tense, but there is also a perfect conditional tense that we have yet to explore.
The Spanish perfect conditional tense in English is the same as saying ‘would have’.
It is a conditional used for the past.
To say ‘would have’ in Spanish, we use the conditional conjugated form of the Spanish verb haber. But the conditional verb is normally paired with a verb in its past participle form.
Perfect conditional (compound) formula
The formula you should use to form the perfect conditional tense is:
Haber (in its conditional verb form) + A verb in its past participle form
To say ‘I would have been happy today if my present had arrived in the mail’, we would use the formula above to create the structure of the sentence.
Habría estado feliz hoy si mi regalo hubiera llegado al correo.
Notice the perfect conditional compound at the beginning of the sentence - habría estado.
Conjugating haber in the conditional tense
Now, you’re going to need to know how to conjugate haber in the conditional tense to use the perfect conditional compound in sentences. Here’s how to do it:
|usted, él, ella
|ustedes, ellos, ellas
Just take the root habr- and add the conditional verb endings to form the conditional tense.
How to use the perfect conditional tense and the past perfect subjunctive
We use the perfect conditional tense when describing an action that didn’t occur but could have occurred under certain conditions in the past.
It is used alongside the past perfect subjunctive and features the conditional si.
In our example above, the past perfect subjunctive is the compound verb hubiera llegado.
To form the past perfect subjunctive, just conjugate the verb haber in its perfect subjunctive tense and follow it with a verb in its past participle form.
To conjugate the verb haber in its past perfect subjunctive form, take a look at the table below.
|Usted, él, ella
|ustedes, ellos, ellas
Examples of the perfect conditional tense and the past perfect subjunctive
Here are a few examples of the conditional tense being used with the past perfect subjunctive. Can you spot the conditional verbs?
Si hubiera enterado antes que tuviste un ataque al corazón, habría venido al hospital antes.
Si no hubiera comido tanto antes de nadar, no habría tenido dolor del estómago.
No te habría llamado tan temprano si hubiera sabido que estabas durmiendo.
Si habrían celebrado la boda públicamente, no hubieran tenido tranquilidad.
Practice with verb exercises and resources to understand the conditional tense
When trying to understand the conditional tense, start by focusing on the simple conditional tense.
Start with the definitions of the key conditional verbs:
Learn how to conjugate regular and irregular verbs, but don’t forget to listen to how they are used by native speakers.
As soon as you’ve mastered the conjugations, complete some verb exercises similar to the ones you’ll get in a Spanish course to help you practice.
With time you will notice how simple the conditional Spanish tense is.
What advice would you like to share about learning the conditional tense in Spanish?
Write your contribution below in the comments section!
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