The conditionals are a type of sentences that we can find in a lot of different languages, either with Germanic or Romance roots: English, French, Italian, and also Spanish. Similarities in their structures make us believe that these sentences will be easy to learn for speakers of these languages. Another reason why they don’t have to be difficult is their use. Frequently, the conditionals are used to express hypothetical or unreal things: possibility, probability, wonder or conjecture, among others. If you speak English, you know what I mean.
Conditional sentences in Spanish have very clear structures. Memorizing these structures early can be one of the most important tools for using them perfectly. Then, you’ll have to choose the correct verb tenses. This could be the most difficult part, but please be patient and try to remember: The structure is fairly similar in English.
Si + dependent clause, independent clause.
Before starting, just let me explain to you how sentences are graphically represented. Whereas the dependent clause (introduced by the conjunction “si” [if]) is red-coloured, the independent clause is blue-coloured; the latter also normally explains the consequence of the action in the dependent clause. Let’s see now how everything works!
Four kinds of conditional sentences in Spanish:
The Universal Conditional (or zero type)
This refers to a situation which is and will be always true. For instance,
Si congelas agua, se convierte en hielo.
If you freeze water, it turns into ice.
And here is the structure:
Si + presente simple, presente simple.
If + simple present, simple present.
The Real Conditional (or first type)
This is employed when a situation is real or possible. For instance,
Si + presente simple, futuro simple.
If + simple present, simple future.
Si estudias, aprobarás el examen.
If you study, you will pass the exam.
Si le duele la cabeza, deberá ir al médico.
If she has a headache, she will have to go to the doctor.
Si no te das prisa, perderemos el avión.
If you don’t hurry, we’ll miss our flight.
The Almost Unreal Conditional (or second type)
This type of sentence is used in order to express hypothetical facts.
Si + pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo, condicional simple.
If + past simple, conditional simple.
Si estudiaras mucho más, aprobarías los exámenes.
If you studied much more, you would pass the exams.
Si tuviera hijos, los llevaría a Disneyland.
If I had children, I would take them to Disneyland.
Si fuera rico, me compraría un yate.
If I were rich, I would buy a yacht.
The Unreal Conditional (or third type)
This is employed in order to refer to hypothetical facts that happened in the past; for example:
Si + pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo, condicional compuesto.
If + past perfect, conditional perfect.
Si hubieras estudiado más, habrías aprobado el examen.
If you had studied more, you would have passed the exam.
Si hubiera tenido hijos, los habría llevado a Disneyland.
If I had had children, I would have taken them to Disneyland.
Si hubiese sido rico, me habría comprado un yate.
If I had been rich, I would have bought a yacht.
Conditional sentences are also called “si clauses” in Spanish in order to distinguish them from the conditional mood. This tense is built and exemplified as follows:
Verbal root + endings (-ía, -ías, -ía, -íamos, -íais, -ían)
(yo) comería, hablarías, (él/ella) moriría, reiríamos, cantaríais, irían
As you will have probably already noticed, the verbal root is exactly the same as in the verb’s bare infinitive. Unfortunately, this is not always the case; here are some irregular verbs:
Hacer: (yo) haría
Venir: (él/ella) vendría
In English, the conditional mood is formed using modal verbs such as could, would, might, and should.
Now, it is time to practice. I am going to suggest questions that should help you understand better Spanish conditional sentences. To be honest, all of us in Spain want to win the Christmas lottery jackpot (el Gordo “The Fat One”) every 22 December. What would you do if you won it? Or, imagine that you find a wallet in a taxi, or somebody offers you hundreds of pounds to cut your hand off, or one day you wake up in another person’s body… What would you do in these situations?
Try to answer them using the different conditional sentences; but don’t worry, it is ok if you don’t tell the embarrassing truth.
Image by Gonmi (CC BY 2.0)