Conditional mood

Conditional mood

In linguistics, the conditional mood (abbreviated cond) is the inflectional form of the verb used in the independent clause of a conditional sentence to refer to a hypothetical state of affairs, or an uncertain event, that is contingent on another set of circumstances. This mood differs from the subjunctive mood, which occurs in dependent clauses.

Conditional verb forms can also have non-conditional temporal uses, often for expressing "future in the past" tense.



Indo-European languages

Germanic languages


English has no conditional mood since no inflections are used to express conditionality; instead, conditionality is expressed periphrastically using the modal auxiliary verb would. English has three types of conditional sentences:[1]

Type Description Dependent clause verb Independent clause verb Example
Factual Factual description of causality 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:[2]

Tense Example
Simple conditional I would sing
Conditional progressive I would be singing
Conditional perfect I would have sung
Conditional perfect progressive I would have been singing

In German, two tense forms 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:[3]
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:[4]
Ich würde gesungen haben

Romance languages

While Latin used the indicative and subjunctive in conditional sentences, most of the Romance languages developed a conditional paradigm. The evolution of these forms (and of the innovative Romance future tense 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 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, Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan, 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 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 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.)

Slavic languages


In Russian, the conditional mood is formed by the past tense of the verb with the particle 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)


  1. ^ Mead, Hayden; Stevenson, Jay (1996), The Essentials of Grammar, New York: Berkley Books, p. 55, ISBN 9780425154465, OCLC 35301673 
  2. ^ Weisberg, Valerie H. (1986), English Verbs, Every Irregular Conjugation, Van Nuys, California: V.H. Weisberg, p. 108, ISBN 9780961091255, OCLC 13770299 
  3. ^ Listen, Paul (2005), The big yellow book of German verbs, Chicago: McGraw-Hill, p. 19, ISBN 9780071469555, OCLC 61370368 
  4. ^ Listen, Paul (2005), The big yellow book of German verbs, Chicago: McGraw-Hill, p. 28, ISBN 9780071469555, OCLC 61370368 

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.