The conditional verb tense in Spanish is very similar to the conditional tense in English. But what is the conditional tense in English, you ask? See if you can figure out what features these sentences have in common:
I could go later if it stops raining. The play should start soon (if my watch is correct). I would run with you, but my leg is hurting. If I won the lottery, I would buy a waterski. He was probably at the game if he didn’t come to dinner. She must have been sick if she didn’t call you. If it snows, we should go skiing. I would like a table for two (if there’s one available).
The conditional tense allows us to talk about what we imagine would happen or what we conjecture did happen on the condition that the world is in a certain state or something else has occurred.
We often don’t explain the condition, but it’s implied that we are assuming it hinges on some ambiguous possibility. For this reason, the conditional is often used in an effort to be polite when making suggestions or asking questions. The conditional helps us avoid sounding harsh or demanding (like in the last example above and the one below).
I would like a cupcake. vs. I want a cupcake.
Conditional is used:
1. To express a possibility or potential circumstance (probabilities) 2. To express uncertainty or doubt 3. To soften suggestions or form more polite requests and questions 4. To talk about desires, hypothetical situations, speculations
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English Versus Spanish Conditional
In English, we often form the conditional by using one of the following verbs in the conditional form + another verb:
can –> could + go shall –> should + be want –> would + like
For the simple conditional tense, rather than combining two verbs, in Spanish you simply conjugate the main verb to form el condicional (also called el pospretérito).
Similarly to English, to express more complex situations, you sometimes need the aid of multiple verbs. We’ll take a look at a few situations that merit the use of conditional verbs + other verb tenses (in specific tense combinations) after learning how to conjugate a verb in the conditional tense.
Creating the Conditional
To create verbs in the conditional, start with the infinitivo (infinitive) verb. The infinitive is the verb in its most basic form. You can spot them easily in Spanish because they retain their original ending of -er, -ir, or -ar. The equivalent meaning in English is the same as “to [verb],” so “beber” translates to “to drink.” For more on how verbs change, see our guides on -ar, -ir, and -er verbs.
|Spanish infinitivo||English infinitive|
Then, for regular verbs, just add one of the following endings according to who is responsible for the action, just as you do when you form the simple future tense. Luckily for you, the conditional tense is very easy to conjugate!
|Subject||Conditional present ending|
|usted, él, ella||-ía|
|ustedes, ellos, ellas||-ían|
Comenzar (to start / to commence):
|yo comenzaría||nosotros comenzaríamos|
|tú comenzarías||vosotros comenzaríais|
|usted, él, ella comenzaría||ustedes, ellos, ellas comenzarían|
Feel like you’ve seen these endings somewhere before?
Conditional endings are the same as the -er and -ir endings in the imperfect tense. You can tell them apart because conditional endings are attached to the full infinitive of the verb, while imperfect endings are just attached to the stem.
Conditional: Correría contigo (I would run with you). Imperfect: Corría contigo (I ran with you).
Irregular Stems in the Conditional
Irregular verbs like to follow their own rules, meaning they don’t conform to the same pattern. In this case, it’s not the ending that’s different, but the stem, or the portion of the infinitive verb before the -ar, -er or -ir. If you’re familiar with the simple future tense, irregular stems follow the same patterns of irregularity. If you’re not familiar, the stems are irregular in three ways:
1. The last vowel of the infinitive changes to a “d.” 2. The last vowel (“e”) of the infinitive is dropped. 3. The infinitive stem changes in its own unique fashion.
1. The last vowel of the infinitive changes to a “d”
Verbs like tener (to have), salir (to exit), poner (to put), valer (to be worth), and venir (to come) follow this pattern. Their last vowel is replaced by a “d,” as follows:
tener –> tendr- salir –> saldr- poner –> pondr- venir –> vendr- valer –> valdr-
Salir (to exit):
|yo saldría||nosotros saldríamos|
|tú saldrías||vosotros saldríais|
|usted, él, ella saldría||ustedes, ellos, ellas saldrían|
2. The last vowel (“e”) of the infinitive is dropped
Verbs like poder (to be able to / can), querer (to want), caber (to fit), and saber (to know) follow this pattern.
poder –> podr- querer –> querr- caber –> cabr- saber –> sabr-
Querer (to want):
|yo querría||nosotros querríamos|
|tú querrías||vosotros querríais|
|usted, él, ella querría||ustedes, ellos, ellas querrían|
3. The infinitive stem changes in its own unique fashion
Decir (to say) and hacer (to make/do) are the truly irregular conditional verbs, for which you’ll just need to memorize the new stems.
decir –> dir- hacer –> har-
Decir (to say):
|yo diría||nosotros diríamos|
|tú dirías||vosotros diríais|
|usted, él, ella diría||ustedes, ellos, ellas dirían|
Hacer (to make/do):
|yo haría||nosotros haríamos|
|tú harías||vosotros haríais|
|usted, él, ella haría||ustedes, ellos, ellas harían|
When (and How) to Use the Conditional Tense
Conjugate the main verb of a sentence following the above rules when the action (including your speculations about the future) are being performed at the current moment.
Iría más tarde si dejara de llover. (I could go [ir first person conditional] later if it stops raining.)
Me gustaría tomar un helado. (I would like an ice cream.)
La obra debería de comenzar pronto (si mi reloj está bien). (The play should [deber third person singular conditional] start soon (if my watch is correct).
Compound (compuesto) conditional / perfect conditional
This form should also be familiar to English speakers, as it follows a very similar formula of combining the verb haber (“to have”) in the conditional perfect with a main verb. Depending on the context, there are a few combinations of tenses which need to be “coordinated,” or always used together.
HABER + MAIN VERB
The compound conditional is used in Spanish to talk about:
1. “Impossible conditions,” or the way things may have turned out differently if something had happened in the past
Si hubieras estudiado, habrías aprobado el examen. (If you had studied, you would have passed your exam.)
[Pluperfect preterite subjunctive + past participle, conditional perfect haber + past participle aprobar]
2. Unrealized actions in the past
Te lo habría dicho, pero no me dejaste hablar. (I’d have told you, but you didn’t let me speak.)
[conditional perfect haber + past participle decir, indicative preterite (past tense)]
3. Speculative or imaginary situations in the past
Lola decidió abandonar a su marido. ¿Tú qué habrías hecho en su lugar? – La verdad, no sé lo que habría hecho.
(Lola decided to leave her husband. What would you have done if you’d been in her place? – I don’t know what I’d have done.)
[conditional perfect haber + past participle hacer]
4. Future actions prior to another future action in connection with the past
Me dijeron que a las 10 ya habrían llegado a Madrid. (They told me they would have arrived in Madrid by 10 [but it’s 10 and they still haven’t].)
[conditional perfect haber + past participle llegar]
Imperfect subjunctive + conditional
When you’re expressing a specific condition in the present which didn’t come true because of its dependence on a past state of affairs, you need to use the imperfect subjunctive in the clause which describes that unlikely situation. These statements generally start with “if.”
IF + MAIN VERB [imperfect subjunctive (past)], SECOND VERB [simple conditional]
Si yo tuviera más dinero, iría a España. (If I had [imperfect subjunctive] more money [at this moment], I would go [simple conditional] to Spain.)
Note that not all “if” clauses use the conditional, even though they often express conditional situations. The tense coordination rules here are the same as in English.
IF + MAIN VERB [present] , SECOND VERB [present]
Si **estudias **[present], **apruebas **[present] el examen. (If you study, you pass the exam.)
IF + MAIN VERB [present], SECOND VERB [future]
Si **gano **[present] la lotería, **compraré **[future] un barco. (If I win the lottery, I will buy a boat.)
When you are reporting possible situations or circumstances that someone told you about (called “reported speech”), you sometimes use the conditional. If the main clause is in the past tense, you use the conditional. When the main clause is in the present, you use the future tense. This follows the same pattern as the English conjugations.
MAIN VERB [past tense] + THAT + SECOND VERB [conditional]
Ella dijo que comería el flan. (She said [past] that she would eat [conditional] the flan.)
MAIN VERB [present] + THAT + SECOND VERB [future]
Ella dice que comerá el flan. (She says [present] that she will eat [future] the flan.)
Querrías test your conditional conjugation skills? Sign up for Lingvist’s online Spanish course today to discover fun exercises for practicing conjugations! You also can choose from Neutral or Latin American Spanish, depending on where you plan to use your Spanish.