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Verbs: conditional tense




The conditional tense is used to talk about things which might happen, but are not certain. This is often translated with ‘would’ in English, eg ‘I would like to go to Spain’.

Conditional tense

How to form the conditional tense:

  1. A pronoun, eg ‘ich’ or ‘du’ or a noun, eg ‘der Hund’.
  2. The conditional form of ‘werden (würden)‘.
  3. An infinitive (which goes at the end of the sentence).

For example, ‘Wenn ich mehr Zeit hätte, würde ich Tennis spielen‘ -> ‘If I had more time, I’d play tennis’.

‘Würden‘ is the conditional form of ‘werden‘ (see the Future tense Revision Bite). It means ‘would’:

 

Würden (would)

Pronoun Würden
ich würde
du würdest
er/sie/es/man würde
wir würden
ihr würdet
sie/Sie würden

 

Using the conditional tense

Think of the structure of the conditional tense as having three elements plus optional extras. Take this sentence: ‘Ich werde meine Tante besuchen‘ (I’m going to visit my aunt).

  1. Element one -> pronoun -> eg ich
  2. Element two -> correct form of würden -> eg würde
  3. Optional extras -> extra bits -> eg meine Tante
  4. Element three -> infinitive -> eg besuchen

If you follow this pattern, you will always end up with correct word order. You must always include all three elements.

Here are some more examples of conditional tense sentences with the pieces divided up into the three elements.

 

Conditional tense sentences

Pronouns/nouns Auxiliary verbs Optional extras Past participle
Wir würden im Winter Snowboard fahren
Mein Freund würde einen neuen Job suchen
Ich würde Lachs probieren

 

Complete sentences that use the conditional tense

  • In the winter we would go snowboarding.
  • My boyfriend would look for a new job.
  • I would try salmon.

Haben and sein

Haben (to have) and sein (to be) are slightly different. ‘Ich würde eine Party haben’ or ‘Ich würde glücklich sein’ are perfectly correct. However, it’s more common to use the conditional forms of haben and sein, eg ‘Ich hätte eine Party‘ or ‘ich wäre glücklich‘.

 

Examples of the conditional of haben

Conditional of haben Translation
Ich hätte I would have
du hättest You would have
er/sie/es/man hätte He/she/it would have
wir hätten We would have
ihr hättet You would have
sie/Sie hätten They/you would have

 

Examples of the conditional of sein

Conditional of sein Translation
Ich wäre I would be
du wärst You would be
er/sie/es/man wäre He/she/it would be
wir wären We would be
ihr wäret (or wärt) You would be
sie/Sie wären They/you would be

Using ‘wenn’ (if)

The conditional is often used with wenn (if):

  • Ich würde die Uniform abschaffen, wenn ich Direktorin wäre -> I’d scrap the uniform, if I were the head teacher.
  • Wir würden in Amerika wohnen, wenn wir die Gelegenheit hätten. -> We’d live in the US if we had the chance.
  • Wenn ich im Lotto gewinnen würde, würde ich um die Welt reisen -> If I had lots of money, I’d travel round the world.

Notice that:

  • Wenn is a ‘subordinating conjunction’ which means it sends the verb to the end of that clause/sentence (see the Conjunctions Revision Bite).
  • If the sentence begins with Wenn…, this ‘wenn clause’ counts as the first idea in that sentence, and is followed immediately by a verb (see the ‘Verb is Second’ section).

Common mistakes made by English speakers

  • Forgetting to put an infinitive at the end when using würden.
  • Getting the word order wrong in ‘if’ sentences.
  • Pronouncing würden (‘vure-den’) the same as werden (vair-den).
  • Pronouncing hätte (‘hett-er’) the same as hatte (‘hatt-er’).
  • Pronouncing wäre (‘vair-er’) like war (‘var’).




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