The past conditional in French

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The past conditional

Usage

The conditionnel passé (past conditional) tense is normally used in the same manner as the English ‘would have + past participle’ construction. We use it:

•  for actions that could have occurred but didn’t; for regrets or reproaches.
J’aurais tellement aimé aller au Pérou ! I would have so loved to go to Peru!
Thierry aurait pu être un grand artiste. Thierry could have been a great artist.
Vous auriez dû me prévenir de votre arrivée ! You should have warned me you were coming!
•  for past hypothetical situations, using the construction Si + plus-que-parfaitconditionnel passé . This is the equivalent of the English ‘if + past perfect → past conditional’ construction.
Si nous n’avions pas décongelé Victor, nous n’aurions jamais réussi la mission. If we hadn’t defrosted Victor, we would never have succeeded with the mission.
Si j’avais su qu’il allait pleuvoir, j’aurais pris mon parapluie. If I had known it would rain, I would have taken my umbrella.

•  for ‘alleged’ information, usually used by journalists for unverified facts:
L’accident aurait fait 10 morts. Apparently, 10 people died in the accident.
La rumeur dit que Victor Hugo ne serait pas mort. Rumour has it that Victor isn’t dead.
Construction

The past conditional is a compound tense. This means that it is constructed using the present conditional form of the auxiliary verbs avoir or être + the past participle form of the main verb.
Si tu ne les avais pas réveillés, ils auraient dormi jusqu’à midi. If you hadn’t woken them, they would have slept until noon.
Sans Muriel, ils ne seraient pas arrivés à l’heure. Without Muriel, they wouldn’t have arrived on time.


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