Do you know the difference between future and conditional in French ?

french conditional and future differences (1)

One of the 20 most common French mistakes is mixing the future and conditional in French. One is tense, and the other one is the mode, and while they express completely different states, they look quite similar.

In this article, we get down to the nitty gritty of using Future Simple and Conditional Present in French.

Future Simple vs Conditional in French

French and English use their future tense in pretty much the same way.

Most languages will have the same distinction between future simple and conditional. Future simple is always used to talk about future actions that are more or less certain, while conditional is used to talk about hypothetical situations.

To put it simply, we can compare the French future simple to the English “will”, and the Conditional Simple to the English “would”.

Future Simple

J’irai à Paris le mois prochain.

l will go next month.

Present Conditional

J’aimerais être en vacances.

l would like to be on holiday.

As you can see in the first case, the person is certain of going to Paris the next month, while in the second case, the person desires going, but hasn’t made any decision or plan to go.

future simple conditional present french (1) (1)


The Most Confusing Thing for French Students

Most French students get confused because the French conditional and Future Simple look very similar.

That’s because they are both formed alike.

Let’s compare :

Le Future – j’irai, tu iras, il ira, elle ira, nous irons, vous irez, ils iront, elles iront

Le Conditional Presentj’irais, tu irais, il irait, elle irait, nous irions, vous iriez, ils iraient, elles iraient

As you notice, the stem for both present conditional and future simple is the same and hence the confusion.

However, the way to distinguish the future from conditional in French is to look attentively at the endings.

Endings for the future are actually the verb avoir conjugated in the Present Tense, while the endings for conditional are the same as imperfect endings (-ais-ais-ait, -ions-iez-aient).

The French Conditional

Technically the conditional is a mood, not a tense. The conditional mood expresses the hypothetic and the possible, as opposed to tenses that describe what’s certain (if there’s such a thing as certainty in life). In English, you can recognize English conditional by the verbs would and sometimes should or could.

The conditional tense talks about events that are not guaranteed to happen or that are dependent on a certain set of circumstances. The most common use of conditional verbs are cause-effect (“if…then”) phrases.

For example, in the sentence, “Si j’étais plus jeune, je sortirais ce soir,” the verb “sortirais” would be in the conditional tense. In other words, the act of going out depends upon the condition of being younger.

Let’s take a look at some situations in which we use the conditional present.

We use the present conditional for

  • politeness

Je voudrais une chambre pour deux personnes s’il vous plait.

I would like a room for two people please.

  • polite formula in the interrogative form

Lea, est-ce que tu pourrais venir au jardin ?

Lea, could you come to the garden ?

  •  a wish, a desire

J’aimerais beaucoup aller à San Francisco !

I would very much like to go to San Francisco!

  • a hypothesis that is still possible

Si j’avais de l’argent, je partirais en vacances.

If I had money, I would go on vacation.

Can l express Future with Present in French?

We understand it’s confusing, but you can also express Future with Present in French. It sounds weird at first, but that’s also happening in the English language. The present tense is often used to express future actions and gives the action more immediacy.

In French, the Simple Present and Simple Future can be used to talk about actions happening in the immediate future.

Let’s see an example

Ce soir, je fais le dîner.

Tonight, I‘m making dinner.

Le train arrive demain matin à 6am.

The train arrives tomorrow morning at 6am.

Expressing French Future Like a Native

Expressing the future requires not only the ability to remember the rules but also the ability to comprehend the sometimes philosophical question of perceiving the future.

Future is something we can’t always rely on, and there’s a reason people express certain things  in one way, and uncertain things or desires in other.  Sometimes you can even express the Future with the Present.

Perceiving the difference takes time and practice.

Make sure to do a couple of exercises to put everything you learned into practice.

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