Conditional mood
In linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, the conditional mood (abbreviated ) is the inflectional form of the verb used in the independent clause
Independent clause
An independent clause is a clause that can stand by itself, also known as a simple sentence. An independent clause contains a subject and a predicate; it makes sense by itself....

 of a conditional sentence
Conditional sentence
In grammar, conditional sentences are sentences discussing factual implications or hypothetical situations and their consequences. Languages use a variety of conditional constructions and verb forms to form such sentences....

 to refer to a hypothetical state of affairs, or an uncertain event, that is contingent on another set of circumstances. This mood
Grammatical mood
In linguistics, grammatical mood is a grammatical feature of verbs, used to signal modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying...

 differs from the subjunctive mood
Subjunctive mood
In grammar, the subjunctive mood is a verb mood typically used in subordinate clauses to express various states of irreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred....

, which occurs in dependent clause
Dependent clause
In linguistics, a dependent clause is a clause that augments an independent clause with additional information, but which cannot stand alone as a sentence. Dependent clauses modify the independent clause of a sentence or serve as a component of it...


Conditional verb forms can also have non-conditional temporal uses, often for expressing "future in the past" tense
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...



English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 has no conditional mood since no inflections are used to express conditionality; instead, conditionality is expressed periphrastically using the modal
Modal verb
A modal verb is a type of auxiliary verb that is used to indicate modality -- that is, likelihood, ability, permission, and obligation...

 auxiliary verb
Auxiliary verb
In linguistics, an auxiliary verb is a verb that gives further semantic or syntactic information about a main or full verb. In English, the extra meaning provided by an auxiliary verb alters the basic meaning of the main verb to make it have one or more of the following functions: passive voice,...

 would. English has three types of conditional sentences:
Type Description Dependent clause verb Independent clause verb Example
Factual Factual description of causality
Causality is the relationship between an event and a second event , where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first....

Present or past, but must match that of the independent clause Present or past When I feel well, I sing.
When I felt well, I sang.
Predictive Circumstances that might arise in the future Present tense Future tense If I feel well, I will sing.
Speculative Circumstances that would come to pass Future form of subjunctive mood  A modal verb (could, might, would) + infinitive If I were to feel well, I would sing.

Of these, only the speculative gives rise to conditional modality.

Conditionality may be expressed in several tense–aspect forms:
Tense Example
Simple conditional I would sing
Conditional progressive I would be singing
Conditional perfect
Conditional perfect
In linguistics, the conditional perfect is the composed form of the conditional mood. It refers to a hypothetical action in the past, contingent on something else that did not occur in the past...

I would have sung
Conditional perfect progressive I would have been singing


In German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

, two tense forms
German conjugation
This is a paradigm of German verbs, that is, a set of conjugation tables, for the model regular verbs and for some of the most common irregular verbs....

 express conditionality:
  • Konjunktiv Futur II (Konjunktiv II, Futur I) corresponds to English's present conditional. It is formed by using the auxiliary verb werden in its subjunctive form plus the infinitive:
Ich würde singen
  • Konditional Perfekt (Konjunktiv II, Futur II) corresponds to English's past conditional. It is formed as the Konjunktiv Futur II, but with the addition of haben or sein (also infinitive form of the verb changes into passive participle) as in the present perfect:
Ich würde gesungen haben

Romance languages

While Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 used the indicative and subjunctive in conditional sentences, most of the Romance languages
Romance languages
The Romance languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, more precisely of the Italic languages subfamily, comprising all the languages that descend from Vulgar Latin, the language of ancient Rome...

 developed a conditional paradigm. The evolution of these forms (and of the innovative Romance future tense
Future tense
In grammar, a future tense is a verb form that marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future , or to happen subsequent to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future .-Expressions of future tense:The concept of the future,...

 forms) is a well-known example of grammaticalization, whereby a syntactically and semantically independent word becomes a bound morpheme with a highly reduced semantic function. The Romance conditional (and future) forms are derived from the Latin infinitive followed by a finite form of the verb habēre. This verb originally meant "own/possess" in Classical Latin, but in Late Latin
Late Latin
Late Latin is the scholarly name for the written Latin of Late Antiquity. The English dictionary definition of Late Latin dates this period from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD extending in Spain to the 7th. This somewhat ambiguously defined period fits between Classical Latin and Medieval Latin...

 picked up a grammatical use as a temporal/modal auxiliary. The fixing of word order (infinitive + auxiliary) and the phonological reduction of the inflected forms of habēre eventually led to the fusion of the two elements into a single synthetic form.

In French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 and Catalan
Catalan language
Catalan is a Romance language, the national and only official language of Andorra and a co-official language in the Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Valencian Community, where it is known as Valencian , as well as in the city of Alghero, on the Italian island...

, the conditional endings come from the imperfect of Latin habēre. For example, in the first person singular:
Language Example
Latin cantāre habēbam
Spanish cantaría
Portuguese cantaria
French je chanterais
Catalan cantaria

A trace of the historical presence of two separate verbs can still be seen in the possibility of mesoclisis in conservative varieties of European Portuguese, where an object pronoun can appear between the verb stem and the conditional ending (e.g. cantá-lo-ia, see Portuguese personal pronouns and possessives).
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 had a similar form, but it also developed conditional verbs based on the perfect forms of habēre, and these are the forms that survive in modern Italian:
Lat. cantāre habuit > *cantare ebbe > It. canterebbe

Romanian language
Romanian Romanian Romanian (or Daco-Romanian; obsolete spellings Rumanian, Roumanian; self-designation: română, limba română ("the Romanian language") or românește (lit. "in Romanian") is a Romance language spoken by around 24 to 28 million people, primarily in Romania and Moldova...

 uses an analytic construction for the conditional, e.g. 1sg aș cânta. (The auxiliary element may derive ultimately from Latin habēre, or it could be a reduced form of a volitional verb a vrea or a voi.)

In Russian, the conditional mood is formed by the past tense of the verb with the particle
Grammatical particle
In grammar, a particle is a function word that does not belong to any of the inflected grammatical word classes . It is a catch-all term for a heterogeneous set of words and terms that lack a precise lexical definition...

 бы which usually follows the verb.
Tense Example
Simple conditional Я хотел бы петь
Conditional progressive Буду петь
Conditional perfect Я хотел бы спеть
Conditional perfect progressive Я хотел бы спеть


In Polish, the conditional mood is formed by attaching an enclitic particle by to the first stressed word in the conditional clause and using the past participle of the verb that expresses conditionality. The examples are showing, how it's related to indicative forms.
Tense Example
Past tense Śpiewałem/-am (I sang)
Conditional Śpiewał(a)bym / Bym śpiewał(a) (I would sing)
Past conditional (rarely used) Był(a)bym śpiewał(a) (I would have sung)

Further reading

  • Aski, Janice M. 1996. "Lightening the Teacher's Load: Linguistic Analysis and Language Instruction". Italica 73(4): 473-492.
  • Benveniste, E. 1968. "Mutations of linguistic categories". In Y. Malkiel and W.P. Lehmann (eds) Directions for historical linguistics, pp. 83–94. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
  • Joseph, Brian D. 1983. The synchrony and diachrony of the Balkan infinitive: a study in general, areal, and historical linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-27318-8.
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