What Is The Italian Condizionale?
The Italian conditional tense, or condizionale, is a mood used to describe all the situations related to uncertainty, doubt, wishes, assumptions, hypotheses or polite requests. The Italian Present Conditional Tense is the equivalent of the English constructions with “would” + verb.
- Vorrei un caffè
I would like a coffee
- Apriresti la porta, per favore?
Would you please open the door?
There are two tenses in the Italian condizionale: present and past. In this article we’ll see how to form them and all the different way you can use the conditional tense.
When To Use The Condizionale In Italian
The Italian Condizionale is quite easy to form. If you studied the subjunctive tense before, you will find that it’s much easier. However, because these two moods are sometimes used together in main and subordinate clauses some people tend to confuse them, even Italian people! Let’s now see all the different cases which require the Conditional tense in Italian.
The Conditional mood is often used in Italian to talk about something that might happen or to talk about very improbable situations. A hypothetical clause is basically a sentence that uses ‘if’ or an equivalent, to create a situation where one thing will happen dependent on another.
- Se avessi i soldi, viaggerei più spesso
If I had the money, I would travel more
This sentence uses first the imperfect subjunctive and then the present conditional mood and is formed by two parts: “se avessi i soldi” (If I had the money), which expresses a condition, and “viaggerei più spesso” (I would travel more), which indicates the consequence. In the sentence expressing the condition you need to use the subjunctive, while in the consequence sentence you use the Conditional tense.
- Se potessi aiutarti lo farei
If I could help you, I would do so
- Se avessi meno impegni, verrei a trovarti
If I were less busy, I would come to visit you
Polite Requests And Advices
You can use the Italian Conditional tense to express a polite request the same way you do it in English with would, or to give an advice or an opinion in order not to sound too authoritative. This second case is often translated in English with the construction “should + verb”:
- Chiuderesti la finestra per favore?
Would you please close the window?
- Secondo me, dovresti studiare un po’ di più
In my opinion, you should study a little bit more
- Penso che dovresti andare in Italia
I think you should go to Italy
Another use of the Conditional tense is to express a wish or an intention, even one which is hardly going to happen. This is one of the easiest case to understand and put in use:
- Vorrei essere ricco
I would like to be rich
- Vorrei comprare quell’auto, ma è troppo costosa
I would like to buy that car, but it’s too expensive
- Mi piacerebbe andare a Parigi quest’estate
I would like to go to Paris this summer
- Vorrei un caffè, per favore
I would like a coffee, please
The Italian condizionale is sometimes used to express regret. This use of conditional tense translates in English with the structure “shouldn’t have + past participle”, to point out you shouldn’t have done something that you now regret:
- Non sarei dovuto venire
I shouldn’t have come
- Non avrei dovuto ascoltarlo
I shouldn’t have listened to him
The Italian Condizionale can also be used to express a doubt:
- Come potrei fare meglio di lui?
How could I do better than him?
- Non capisco come sarei d’aiuto
I don’t understand how I would be helpful
A Future Action…In The Past
Italian people use condizionale to express a future action from the viewpoint of the past. Let’s see an example:
- Marco ha detto che sarebbe venuto
Marco said he would come
In this sentence, Marco said (in the past) that he would come. Here we use conditional past tense to express uncertainty, because (despite what Marco said) we’re not sure whether he will actually come or not in a future moment.
- Anna mi ha detto che avrebbe studiato con me oggi
Anna told me she would study with me today
- Pensavo che sarebbe stato più freddo, oggi
I thought the weather would be colder today
When referring to an event that must take place in the future compared to a moment in the past, we are talking about Future in the Past. In Italian, this future event is expressed with Conditional perfect tense.
How To Make The Italian Conditional In The Present
You can form the condizionale presente of regular verbs by adding the following endings to the root of the verb, according to the three conjugations. The conditional present tense is similar to the conjugation of the Italian future simple. The good news is, the Conditional tense suffix are the same for all three groups of verbs:
- -are conjugation: -ei, -esti, -ebbe, -emmo, -este, -ebbero
- -ere conjugation: -ei, -esti, -ebbe, -emmo, -este, -ebbero
- -ire conjugation: -ei, -esti, -ebbe, -emmo, -este, -ebbero
However, you need to remember that when forming the present conditional of regular verbs you just need to remove the final -e of the infinitive form and not all the suffixes -are, -ere, – ire. You just remove the final -e and add an appropriate ending. For instance:
- Credere (to believe): creder-ei, creder-esti, creder-ebbe, creder-emmo, creder-este, creder-ebbero
The exception is all the verbs in -are. These verbs change the “a” in the infinitive suffix –are with an “e”. After you replace it, you simply add the conditional endings:
- Ascoltare (to listen): ascolter-ei, ascolter-esti, ascolter-ebbe, ascolter-emmo, ascolter-este, ascolter-ebbero
Now let’s see how the regular verbs of the three groups look like when conjugated in the Conditional present tense:
Ascoltare (to listen)
Credere (to believe)
Partire (to depart, leave)
- Non partirei mai senza salutarti
I would never leave without saying goodbye to you
- Non crederei mai alle sue parole
I would never trust his words
Please pay attention when you pronounce the third person plural noi (we). There is a double M in the suffix, and if you don’t put it, it can be confused with the third person plural of the future simple:
- Noi ascolteremo – we will listen
- Noi ascolteremmo – we would listen
The Italian Conditional Of Avere And Essere
Now let’s see how to conjugate the conditional tenses of the auxiliary verbs essere and avere, which are necessary to form the Conditional past of the acting verbs. The conditional present tense looks like this:
Essere (to be)
Avere (to have)
- Sarei un giocatore di tennis migliore, se mi allenassi più spesso
I’d be a better tennis player, If I trained more often
- Avrei una domanda da farti
I have (would have) a question to ask you
As usual in compound tenses, you need to add the past participle of the verb to form the conditional perfect tense. You will use the conditional present of essere or avere and add the past participle. The conditional perfect of auxiliary verbs looks like this:
Essere (to be)
Avere (to have)
io sarei stato/a
io avrei avuto
tu saresti stato/a
tu avresti avuto
lui/lei sarebbe stato/a
lui/lei avrebbe avuto
noi saremmo stati/e
noi avremmo avuto
voi sareste stati/e
voi avreste avuto
loro sarebbero stati/e
loro avrebbero avuto
Remember that verbs conjugated with essere must change their endings to agree in number and gender with the subject.
- Se non avessimo studiato, non saremmo stati in grado di passare l’esame
If we didn’t study, we wouldn’t be able to pass the test
- Se non fosse stato per lui, non avrei avuto questa possibilità
If it wasn’t for him, I would never have that chance
- Sarebbe stato meglio partire ieri
It would have been better to leave yesterday
Now let’s see in detail how to conjugate and use the conditional perfect, or condizionale passato.
How To Make The Italian Conditional In The Past
The Italian conditional perfect, or condizionale passato is formed with the conditional present of the auxiliary verb avere or essere and the past participle of the acting verb. It can be translated with the construction would have + verb
Ascoltare (to listen)
Credere (to believe)
Partire (to depart, leave)
io avrei ascoltato
io avrei creduto
io sarei partito/a
tu avresti ascoltato
tu avresti creduto
tu saresti partito/a
lui/lei avrebbe ascoltato
lui/lei avrebbe creduto
lui/lei sarebbe partito/a
noi avremmo ascoltato
noi avremmo creduto
noi saremmo partiti/e
voi avreste ascoltato
voi avreste creduto
voi sareste partiti/e
loro avrebbero ascoltato
loro avrebbero creduto
loro sarebbero partiti/e
When combined with the auxiliary essere, the past participle of the acting verb must always agree with the subject. The conditional perfect is also used to express doubts, uncertainty, or to say what we would have done if the conditions had been different.
- Se non l’avessi visto, non avrei creduto alle sue parole
If I had not seen it, I wouldn’t believe his words
- Se ieri non avesse piovuto, saremmo partiti per la nostra gita
If it didn’t rain yesterday, we would have left for our trip
The Italian conditional perfect is often used in combination with the pluperfect subjunctive – congiuntivo trapassato – to express the future in the past. This is the case when both the actions are already finished, because they already happened in the past, one after another.
- Se avessi avuto tempo, ti avrei telefonato
If I had the time, I would have called you
The sentence indicating the condition (if I had time) uses the pluperfect subjunctive and always happens before the consequence, while the sentence indicating the consequence (I would have called you) has the conditional perfect and indicates a possibility that didn’t happen because of the past circumstances.
- Se avessi studiato di più, avrei passato l’esame
If I had studied more, I would have passed the test
- Se non avessi dovuto lavorare, sarei andata in palestra
If I didn’t have to work, I would have gone to the gym
Here, conditional perfect is used when you want to talk about impossible events that didn’t happen because of the past circumstances.
When forming the condizionale, irregular verbs typically fall into two groups:
Those who lose the “e” in the infinitive suffix (or verbs in -are that do not get the “e” and lose the “a” either):
- andare: andr-ei, andr-esti, andr-ebbe, andr-emmo, andr-este, andr-ebbero
- vivere: vivr-ei, vivr-esti, vivr-ebbe, vivr-emmo, vivr-este, vivr-ebbero
- dovere: dovr-ei, dovr-esti, dovr-ebbe, dovr-emmo, dovr-este, dovr-ebbero
- potere: potr-ei, potr-esti, potr-ebbe, potr-emmo, potr-este, potr-ebbero
Verbs who lose not only their infinitive suffix, but also the consonant before it and get a “rr” instead:
- volere: vorr-ei, vorr-esti, vorr-ebbe, vorr-emmo, vorr-este, vorr-ebbero
- rimanere: rimarr-ei, rimarr-esti, rimarr-ebbe, rimarr-emmo, rimarr-este, rimarr-ebbero
Other irregular verbs do not follow any rule and need to be studied by heart:
- dare: dar-ei, dar-esti, dar-ebbe, dar-emmo, dar-este, dar-ebbero
- fare: far-ei, far-esti, far-ebbe, far-emmo, far-este, far-ebbero
- stare: star-ei, star-esti, star-ebbe, star-emmo, star-este, star-ebbero
Other Uses Of Condizionale
There are also some cases where the Italian use of condizionale has no equivalent in English. This is the case when Italian people want to express disappointment or anger towards a situation.
- E lui, chi sarebbe?
Who is he? (or, literally: who would he be?)
- Io non mi sarei mai permesso di agire così!
I would have never done such a thing!
The second case where condizionale is used in Italian but not in English is when you want to make a hypothesis or tell some news that you’re not certain about. The news are unconfirmed, so the subject cautiously guesses what happened:
- Secondo la polizia, il ladro sarebbe scappato
According to the police, the thief ran away
(literally: according to the police, the thief would have run away)
- Secondo i giornali il presidente si sarebbe dimesso
According to the newspaper, the president resigned
(literally: according to the newspaper, the president would have resigned)
Finally, I want to mention that the Italian conditional tense is not always translated with would. As you probably noticed, sometimes the condizionale is translated with the constructions should + verb or could + verb. This usually happens with the Italian verbs dovere (to have to) and potere (to be able to).
- Dovremmo imparare una lingua straniera
We should learn a foreign language
- Non potrei mai fargli una cosa del genere
I could never do this to him
It’s easier to understand these cases if you think that by using should and could in these examples you’re saying something like “would have to learn” or “would be able to do”.
The Italian condizionale is not as challenging as the subjunctive, but it does, just like all the other tenses, take some practice to get used to. If you would like to speak Italian like a native you definitely need to know how to use it!