Read this page, then try this practice.
The conditional refers to a series of verb forms (in grammatical terms, a “mood”) that is used to convey hypothetical situations, as well polite forms of address. Examples of the use of the conditional in English include sentences like Could you bring me a cup of coffee? and I would love to spend every summer in Italy! Below you can study the forms of the conditional and then go on to read more about its uses.
If you have already learned the future tense, the conditional will be easy for you, because the basic method for forming it is like that of the future; you just have different endings. Drop the final -e of the infinitive and add the proper endings. These endings are common to -are, -ere, and –ire verbs). For –are verbs, you must additionally change the final vowel a to an -e (e.g. guardare becomes guarderei, guarderesti, etc.).
|lui, lei, Lei||guarderebbe||scriverebbe||pulirebbe|
There are several verbs that have irregular stems. Verbs like essere are very irregular (sarei, saresti, sarebbe, etc.), while verbs like fare (farei, faresti, farebbe, etc.), andare (andrei, andresti, andrebbe, etc.) and venire (verrei, verresti, verrebbe, etc.) drop a vowel or change a consonant. For a list of irregular conditional forms, refer to the list of irregular verbs in the future. Use the stem changes that are common to the future, but don’t forget to add the conditional endings!
The conditional is used in Italian in three contexts:
I. Polite Statements and Requests
In order to make a request sound more polite in a restaurant, you might say: I would like an orange juice (instead of I want an orange juice. It works the same way in Italian: Vorrei un succo d’arancia is much more polite and formal than Voglio un succo. Similarly, it sounds more formal to say Potrebbe chiamarmi indietro? (Could you call me back?), as opposed to Puoi chiamarmi indietro? (Can you call me back?).
II. Hypothetical Situations
You also use the conditional to talk about things that are hypothetical (i.e. could happen in theory but are not yet a part of everyday reality). In English, we convey this hypothetical element with the word would. (e.g. I would study more, but I don’t have time.) In Italian, rather, the hypothetical is expressed not through the addition of one word (like an equivalent of would), but through a conditional form (or conjugation) of the main verb, in this case, studiare:
|Studierei di piu’ ma non ho tempo.||I would study more, but I don’t have time.|
III. dovere, potere, volere
The conditional is also used to convey a more precise meaning of dovere, potere, and volere. Here is a chart to help you understand how the meanings change between the present indicative and the present conditional:
|dovere||devo: I must||dovrei: I should|
|potere||posso: I can||potrei: I could|
|volere||voglio: I like||vorrei: I woud like|
✽ Remember, that where you express a hypothetical situation with the word would in English, in Italian, you convey this by putting the verb in the conditional. (e.g. I would go = andrei, You would see = vedresti.) The verb vorrei means specifically I would like.
✽ There is an idiomatic use of would in English to express not a hypothetical or conditional, but rather a habitual action in the past. (e.g. During my freshman year I would stay up all night talking with my friends.) In this case, you would NOT use the conditional in Italian, but rather the imperfect (l’imperfetto), the past tense reserved for describing repeated or habitual actions in the past.
✽ If-then constructions like If I had more money, I would buy myself a new car use the conditional for the then part of the sentence, but after the if clause, a totally different construction is used, called the subjunctive (congiuntivo). This construction is one of the most advanced of Italian grammar. For more information about this, read the section on the periodo ipotetico on the subjunctive page.
Past conditional (Condizionale passato)
Just like with the future perfect, you form the past conditional by placing the verb avere or essere in the conditional and then adding the past participle of the main verb. For example:
|Sarei andato in Italia.||I would have gone to Italy.|
|Mi avresti chiamato?||Would you have called me?|
|Non avremmo saputo.||We wouldn’t have known.|
The past conditional is used to convey a sense of past hypotheticals, as the above examples indicate. It is also used in
indirect discourse, when recounting what another person said, wrote, or promised. For example:
|Mario ha detto che sarebbe arrivato alle otto.||Marco said that he would arrive at 8:00.|
|Ho promesso alla mia fidanzata che l’avrei chiamata ogni sera.||I promised my girlfriend that I would call her every evening.|
✽ Note that in English we use the present conditional in this situation, but in Italian you use the past.