It’s time for a new grammar lesson and this time it is about the conditional in Italian.
As I always do when I select topics for this section of my blog, I have picked this specific aspect of the Italian language because I have noticed some of my students struggle with it a little bit, especially with the use of the conditional to express the future in the past.
Since I have seen a recurring problem with this grammar element, I thought it would be interesting to write a blog post about it because maybe some people studying Italian and having the same issue might find it useful.
Needless to say, I hate to talk about mistakes when it comes to speaking a language, so this post is not intended as a way to correct you but as a sort of guide to help you feel more confident when speaking the language – I always repeat this, I know, but I cannot stress this enough!
As I always do with these types of posts, I have created a downloadable pdf file that you can save and keep for future reference. You can find the file in Your Italian Toolbox, the page on my site where I upload all language-learning material. You get access to the page by subscribing to my newsletter. And now let’s dive into the topic!
First of all, what is the conditional?
The conditional is a verbal mode you need to use to talk about what could happen or what could be true under certain circumstances, to express conditions that have to do with uncertainty, to talk about actions and facts that are influenced by other actions and facts, to talk about what could happen, what might have happened, or what we wish would happen.
The conditional in Italian has a present and a past tense.
The Present Conditional in Italian
The present conditional in Italian is used to talk about things that might or might not happen in the present under certain circumstances.
It is mainly used to express desires, to ask something politely, to express a personal opinion, to give advice. Here below is an example for each of these uses:
Vorrei tanto andare al mare domenica (I’d really like to go to the beach on Sunday)
Potrei avere un caffè, per cortesia? (May I have a coffee, please?)
Non dovresti smettere di studiare, è troppo importante! (You shouldn’t stop studying, it is too important)
Per dimagrire, dovresti cominciare a fare sport (You should start doing sports if you want to lose weight)
It is also used in the periodo ipotetico della realtà (a hypothetical clause that describes situations that are unlikely or unreal in the present). Here are a couple of examples:
Se avessi soldi, andrei in vacanza (I’d go on holiday if I had the money)
Se fossi ricco, smetterei subito di lavorare (If I were rich, I’d immediately stop working)
The Past Conditional in Italian
The past conditional in Italian is used to talk about things that might have happened in the past under certain circumstances, to talk about something that might have happened in the past but didn’t and nothing can be done to change the situation.
You can use it to express desires in the past, to express personal opinions, or to give advice in the past. Here are some examples:
Avrei tanto voluto andare al mare domenica scorsa, ma pioveva (I would have loved to go to the beach last Sunday but it was raining)
Non avresti dovuto smettere di studiare, è troppo importante! (You shouldn’t have stopped studying, it’s too important!)
Per dimagrire avresti dovuto fare sport (You should have done sports if you wanted to lose weight)
It is also used in the periodo ipotetico dell’irrealtà (a hypothetical clause that describes situations in the past that are contrary to what happened). Here are some examples:
Se avessi avuto dei soldi, sarei andato in vacanza (If I had had some money, I would have gone on holiday)
Se fossi stato ricco, avrei smesso di lavorare (If I had been rich, I would have stopped working)
The future in the past
In all these cases above, the use of the past conditional in Italian is quite similar to the one in English but there is a use of the past conditional in Italian which is quite different: while in English you use the present conditional to express future in the past, in Italian we use the past conditional.
The future in the past is used to talk about an action or fact that comes after another action or fact in the past. To do this we always use two clauses: the main one, whose verb is always in the past tense, and the subordinate one, the one that expresses the action that comes after, which uses the past conditional.
Here are some examples of this use:
Mi ha detto che avrebbe fatto tardi (He told me he would be late)
Sapevo che saresti ritornata a casa con quel cagnolino (I knew you’d come home with that dog)
Mi ha detto che sarebbe partita per le vacanze il giorno dopo (She told me she would leave for the holidays the day after)
I hope this post helps you review the use of the conditional in Italian. As usual, if you have questions please leave a message in the comments below!
As I always do with posts about the Italian language, I have created a downloadable pdf file for you to keep for future reference. You will find it in Your Italian Toolbox, the private page on my site where I upload all language learning materials, under the section Grammar. If can access the page by simply subscribing to my newsletter.
If you are interested in working on Italian grammar and want to focus on some specific topics, I suggest you check Ti aiuto io, my online Italian language tutoring service.
If you purchase Ti aiuto io, I will work as your private tutor, giving you tasks and homework and spending time over Skype with you to clarify and work together on each topic. If you want to give it a try, you can request a 30-minute free chat, so that we can meet each other and see if you like the service.