Italian periodo ipotetico, possible, impossible hipotesis

What Is The Periodo Ipotetico In Italian?

The periodo ipotetico in Italian is the conditional sentence used to make hypothesis about the past, present, future or to predict the consequences of an action.
There are three types of conditional clauses, which are used to express certain hypothesis, possible hypothesis or impossible hypothesis. Let’s see some examples:

1. Real, certain hypothesis
Se costa troppo non lo compro. 

If it’s too expensive, I will not buy it.

2. Possible hypothesis
Se avessi i soldi, viaggerei più spesso.
If I had the money, I would travel more.

3. Impossibile hypothesis
Se avessi studiato, avresti passato l’esame.

If you had studied, you would have passed the test.

The difference among these sentences is the tense used, which defines the condition of reality (certainty), possibility or impossibility.

The periodo ipotetico Italian is a structure which is always formed by a main clause and a subordinate clause and is the equivalent of the English “If sentences”.

A conditional sentence contains both a hypothesis, introduced by the preposition se (if), and a statement of consequence.

Now let’s have a look at how to construct the three of them and which tense to use in each situation.

Periodo Ipotetico Italian – Certain Hypothesis

Before seeing how to construct the conditional clause for certain hypothesis, let’s see how to distinguish the subordinate from the main clause. The sentence introduced by “se” (if) is the subordinate clause, while the other is the main clause.


Se non piove (Subordinate), uscirò (Main).
If it doesn’t rain (Subordinate), I will go out (Main).

This type of conditional clause is called in Italian: “periodo ipotetico della realtà” (conditional clause of reality) and is used when we are certain (or quite certain) of the consequences of an action or fact.

  • Se vieni con me, ti divertirai
    If you come with me, you’ll have fun
  • Se non capisci, te lo spiego di nuovo
    If you don’t understand, I will explain it again

The basic rule for conditional clauses is that the tenses in the two sentences must be conjugated according to the type of conditional used (reality, possibility or unreality). The conditional clause for reality expresses a situation that can happen for sure in the present or in the future.





Present time Indicative mood –
Present Simple
Se hai bisogno,
If you need help,
Indicative mood –
Present Simple
call me
Future time Present Simple
Se non ti sbrighi,
If you don’t hurry
Future Simple
faremo tardi
we’ll be late
Future time Future Simple
Se non pioverà,
If it will not rain
Future Simple
we will go out

This 1st Conditional is used to discuss something which is happening in the present or will take place very soon in the future. As you can see, there are three possibilities:

  1. Present Simple (Indicative mood) + Present Simple (Indicative mood)
  2. Present Simple (Indicative mood) + Future Simple (Indicative mood)
  3. Future Simple (Indicative mood) + Future Simple (Indicative mood)

The important thing to remember is that this 1st Conditional is always used to talk about something that will surely happen, or that has a high chance of happening. There is also a fourth case, where Imperative mood is used in the main clause:

  • Se vuoi avere successo, fa’ come ti dico
    If you want to be successful, do as I say
  • Se ti senti solo, chiamami!
    If you feel lonely, call me!

Periodo Ipotetico Italian – Possible Hypothesis

The second conditional is the one used to express a possible hypothesis, something that could happen in the future, but might as well not happen.

In the case of a possible hypothesis, we use the imperfect subjunctive in the clause expressing the condition (subordinate clause), and the present conditional in the clause expressing the consequence (main clause):

  • Se fossi ricco, comprerei una casa a New York
    If I was rich, I’d buy a house in New York
  • Se ci fosse il sole, andrei al parco
    If it was sunny, I would go to the park

This type of conditional is called periodo ipotetico della possibilità (conditional clause of possibility), because it presents situations which are unreal at present, but could possibly happen, even if it’s unlikely. For this reason, the mood used is the subjunctive + conditional tenses.

If you studied the subjunctive and conditional mood you already know that these are the ones used to talk about possibilities and uncertain situations. The imperfect subjunctive is used to formulate a hypothesis, while the conditional present expresses the possible outcome.

  • Se facessi sport, non ti ammaleresti così spesso
    If you did some sport, you wouldn’t be sick so often
  • Se avessi delle uova, farei una torta
    If I had some eggs, I would bake a cake

In few cases, however, you can find that this 2nd conditional may use the imperfect subjunctive + indicative future simple. This happens when you want to talk about a possible, but future hypothesis. The indicative Future is used in the main clause:

  • Se domani il tempo dovesse essere brutto, resteremo a casa
    If tomorrow the weather is bad, we will stay at home
    If the weather has to be bad, we will stay at home (literally)
  • Se dovesse venire, lo accoglieremo calorosamente
    If he has to come (if he happens to come), we will welcome him warmly

In the subordinate clause, the possibility of the hypothesis is signaled by the modal verb dovere (to have to), conjugated in the Imperfect Subjunctive. Here, dovere has a different use than in English, so don’t worry too much if you think it sounds weird, as this form is not very common in spoken language.





Present time Imperfect Subjunctive
Se potessi,
If I could
Conditional Present
verrei a trovarti
I would come visit you
Future time Imperfect Subjunctive
Se dovessi ammalarmi

If I’ll get sick (If I have to get sick)
Future Simple (Indicative)
andrò dal medico
I’ll go see a doctor

Periodo Ipotetico Italian – Impossible Hypothesis

When there is the impossibility for a certain condition to happen, the third type of hypothetical sentence must be used. This is called the periodo ipotetico dell’irrealtà, (unreal conditional clause). It is used to express the impossibility of something, because we already know it didn’t happen (and there’s no chance to go back in time and change it) or because the circumstances are impossible. For instance:

  • Se fossi nato in Italia, parlerei italiano
    If I was born in Italy, I would speak Italian
  • Se fossi uscito in tempo, non avresti fatto tardi
    If you had left on time, you wouldn’t have been late

The impossible hypothesis in the past is created by using the pluperfect or imperfect subjunctive in the subordinate clause and with the conditional present or past in the main clause. When forming this conditional always remember that the action that you’re talking about is impossible, and there’s no way that it can happen.

The 3rd type conditional can also be used to express regret:

  • Se solo avessi studiato di più, ora sarei un avvocato famoso
    If only I had studied more, I would now be a famous lawyer

It’s important to remember that the assumption that we make with the 3rd conditional will never have a chance to happen. The subordinate clause introduced by “se” can indicate both a present or past situation:

  • Se fossi un animale, quale vorresti essere?
    If you were an animal, which one would you be?

In this case we are referring to a present situation, because we are asking something to someone in the present. Therefore, in this particular case, we use the imperfect subjunctive in the subordinate clause, and the conditional present in the main sentence.

  • Se avessi avuto i soldi, sarei andato in vacanza
    If I have had the money, I would have gone on holidays

This second situation, however, is set in the past, so we use the pluperfect subjunctive in the subordinate and the conditional past in the main clause.





Present time Imperfect Subjunctive
Se fossi un astronauta,
If I was an astronaut
Conditional Present
andrei sulla Luna
I would go to the Moon
Past time Pluperfect Subjunctive
Se avessi corso,

If I had run,
Conditional Past
avrei raggiunto l’autobus

I would have caught the bus

Common Mistakes

The periodo ipotetico in Italian is a sentence used to express a condition and a consequence. It’s not easy to immediately understand and use it, so you might want to be aware of two common mistakes people often make (even natives!) The first mistake is to use the conditional present tense both in the subordinate clause and in the main clause:

  • Se potrei, verrei
    If I could, I woud come

You should instead use the subjunctive present in the subordinate clause:

  • Se potessi, verrei

This sentence expresses a possibility, so it’s classified as second type conditional. Another common mistake, which often occurs in spoken language, is the use of the imperfect indicative in both clauses:

  • Se potevo, venivo

This sentence means “If I could, I would have come”, and it refers to a past event which didn’t happen and is therefore an impossible hypothesis. So, we need to form the 3rd type conditional by using the pluperfect subjunctive + conditional past:

  • Se avessi potuto, sarei venuto
    If I could, I would have come

To avoid mistakes, remember the general rule: “se” is always set before indicative and subjunctive tenses, never before conditional ones.

Italian Periodo Ipotetico: A Quick Overview

We have seen the three types of Conditional tenses that are used in Italian to talk about real, possible and unreal hypothesis. Now let’s put everything together, so you have a clear overview of the Italian periodo ipotetico.

Hypothesis Type of hypothesis Subordinate clause Main clause
In the present REAL

(something is very

likely to happen)

Present Indicative

Se hai bisogno,
If you need me,

Present Indicative
call me
(something can happen, but not for sure)
Imperfect Subjunctive

Se ti sposassi,

If you’ll get married

Conditional Present

sarei felice
I’d be happy


(cannot happen,
unreal situations)

Imperfect Subjunctive
Se fossi un uccello,

If I were a bird

Conditional Present
I would fly
In the past IMPOSSIBLE-
Pluperfect Subjunctive

Se avessi studiato,

If I had studied

Conditional Past
mi sarei laureato
I would have graduated
In the future REAL – POSSIBLE Indicative Future Simple

Se sarò libero,

If I’ll be free,

Indicative Future Simple
verrò in spiaggia con te
I will come to the beach with you

If you’ve studied the Italian conditional clauses and think they’re too difficult, well… they are, even for Italian native speakers (who also get them wrong!). It’s an advanced Italian grammar topic, but you can master it with practice and time.

Our advice is to first determine whether the hypothesis is set in the present, past or future. Then, you can choose whether the assumption is real, possible or impossible, and finally pick the appropriate tense.

Sometimes, you can also find mixed conditional clauses, where past and present can be combined together:

  • Se ieri avessi lavorato, oggi potrei riposarmi
    If I had worked yesterday, I could rest today

Another thing to remember, is that main clause and subordinate can change their order, which means you don’t necessarily have to start a conditional clause with “se”:

  • Se hai tempo, telefonami = Telefonami, se hai tempo
    If you have time, call me = Call me, if you have time

Finally, remember that sometimes the subordinate clause with “se” is used as an independent sentence with exclamatory or interrogative intonation, to express desire, regret or blame.

  • Se tu mi avessi ascoltato!
    If you had listened to me!
  • Se riuscissi a capirci qualcosa!
    If only I could understand anything!
  • Se solo fossi ricco!
    If I were rich!


The Italian periodo ipotetico is a complicated and very elegant use of the congiuntivo and condizionale. If you want to speak Italian to an advanced level, you must learn how to use the Italian period ipotetico! Once you master it, you’ll be able to make hypothesis about any situation, be it real, possible or impossible.

If clauses are widely used in everyday language, so this gives you a great opportunity to practice and show off your skills with your Italian friends! What are you waiting for? Go out and try!

By: Lucia Aiello

Lucia Aiello is one of the co-founders of LearnItalianGo. Born and raised in Italy, she is a passionate Italian teacher and language enthusiast.