French Grammar: Conditional Sentences (“Si” Clauses)

French Grammar: Conditional Sentences (“Si” Clauses)

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French Grammar: Conditional Sentences (“Si” Clauses)
la grammaire française: les propositions conditionnelles

Grammatically speaking, a clause is the smallest grammatical unit that can express a complete idea.  A typical clause consists of a subject and a verb (or verb phrase).  Simple sentences usually consist of a single clause.  More complex sentences can contain two (and sometimes more) clauses.

“Si” clauses (also called “If…then” clauses or conditional sentences) are sentences that consist of two clauses: a “Si” (or “if”) clause + a result (or “then”) clause.  In these types of sentences, the “Si clause expresses a possibility or a condition; the result (“then”) clause expresses a result that is dependent on that possibility or condition.

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Grammatically speaking, a clause is the smallest grammatical unit that can express a complete idea.  A typical clause consists of a subject and a verb (or verb phrase).  Simple sentences usually consist of a single clause.  More complex sentences can contain two (and sometimes more) clauses.

“Si” clauses (also called “If…then” clauses or conditional sentences) are sentences that consist of two clauses: a “Si” (or “if”) clause + a result (or “then”) clause.  In these types of sentences, the “Si clause expresses a possibility or a condition; the result (“then”) clause expresses a result that is dependent on that possibility or condition.

Note that si becomes s’ before il and ils, but it remains si before elle and elles.

There are different types of “Si” clauses, but they all have the following in common:

1) In English, the word “then” might come before the result clause.  In French, however, there is no equivalent word that comes before the result clause.

Si elle veut, je peux l’accompagner.
If she wants, (then) I can accompany her.

2) The clauses can occur in either order: the “Si” clause can precede the result clause, or the result clause can precede the “Si” clause.  Either way, the word “si” (“if”) must come before the condition.

Si elle veut, je peux l’accompagner.
If she wants, (then) I can accompany her.

Je peux l’accompagner si elle veut.
I can accompany her if she wants.

Determining which verb tenses to use in “Si” clauses depends on the likeliness of the action in the result clause.  (i.e., what does happen / what will happen / what would happen / what would have happened IF…)

If an action is likely to happen, the present tense is used in the “Siclause and either the present tense, future tense, or imperative (command form) is used in the result clause.

PRESENT TENSE +PRESENT TENSE:

S’il neige, je reste à la maison.
If it snows, I am staying home.

PRESENT TENSE + FUTURE TENSE:

Si tu le construis, ils viendront.
If you (familiar) build it, they will come.

PRESENT TENSE + IMPERATIVE (COMMAND FORM):

Si vous ne réussissez pas du premier coup, réessayez encore et encore.
If at first you (formal) don’t succeed, try, try again.

If an action is not likely to happen, or if the action is contrary to fact, the imperfect tense is used in the “Siclause and the conditional tense is used in the result clause.

IMPERFECT TENSE + CONDITIONAL TENSE:

Si j’avais un million de dollars, je t’achèterais un singe.
If I had (were to have) a million dollars, I would buy you (familiar) a monkey.

In a “Si” clause that expresses a hypothetical situation which is contrary to past fact (i.e., something that would have happened IF something else had happened), the pluperfect tense is used in the “Siclause and the past conditional tense is used in the result clause.

PLUPERFECT TENSE + PAST CONDITIONAL TENSE:

S’il avait étudié, il aurait réussi à l’examen.
If he had studied, he would have passed the exam.  (Hypothetical)
(Fact: He didn’t study, so he didn’t pass the exam.)

Here is a summary of the tenses to use in “Si” clauses:

If the “Si” clause is in present tense -> the result (“then”) clause is in present, future or imperative

If the “Si” clause is in imperfect tense -> the result (“then”) clause is in conditional tense

If the “Si” clause is in pluperfect tense -> the result (“then”) clause is in conditional perfect tense

The verb pairings above are very specific and must be rigidly adhered to.  So for example, if the imperfect tense is used in the “Si clause, the conditional tense MUST be used in the result clause.  Therefore, memorizing these verb pairings is absolutely essential!

Adapt:

Si tu as le temps, donne à manger au chat.
If you (familiar) have time, feed the cat.

Oui, je donnerai à manger au chat si j’ai le temps.
Yes, I will feed the cat if I have time.

Le match serait annulé s’il pleuvait.
The game would be cancelled if it was raining (were to rain).

Nous aurions acheté une nouvelle voiture si nous avions eu assez d’argent.
We would have bought a new car if we had had enough money.

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