Verb tenses to use after se (if)

Se (if) is often used to express probability or a hypothesis.

Se Mattia vuole ottenere dei buoni risultati, deve seguire i consigli del suo capo

If Mattia wants to get good results, he needs to follow his boss's advice.

Se avessi tempo, andrei in palestra.

If I had time, I'd go to the gym.

The verbs in sentences that use se (if) have to agree in terms of tense.

1) To express something that is almost certain or very likely: 

  • Se (if) + verb 1 in the present tense →  verb 2 in the present, future or imperative.

Se mi chiedi consiglio, ti rispondo/risponderò. (presente → presente/futuro)

If you ask me for advice, I will answer you. (Se + present → present/future)

Se volete ottenere buoni risultati, seguite i consigli di Francesco! 

( presente → imperativo)

If you want to achieve good results, follow Francesco's advice! 

(Se + present → imperative)

  • Se (if) + verb 1 in the future tense  →  verb 2 in the future or imperative. Note that in such sentences, we would use the present tense for verb 1 in English.

Se Marta e Mattia seguiranno i consigli del capo, otterranno buoni risultati.

(Se + futuro → futuro)

If Marta and Mattia follow (literally “will follow”) the boss's advice, they will achieve good results.
(Se + future → future)

Se vorrete ottenere buoni risultati, seguite i consigli di Francesco! 

( Se + futuro → imperativo)

If you want (literally “will want”) to achieve good results, follow Francesco's advice. 
(Se + future → imperative)

2) To express a hypothesis (uncertainty):

  • Se (if) + verb 1 in the imperfect subjunctive →  verb 2 in the (present) conditional.

Se Mattia e Marta parlassero bene francese, capirebbero meglio i parigini. 

(Se + congiuntivo imperfetto → condizionale presente)

If Mattia and Marta spoke French well, they would understand Parisians better.

(Se + imperfect subjunctive → present conditional)

Francesco sarebbe meno stanco, se non andasse tutte le sere in discoteca.

(Condizionale presente → se + congiuntivo imperfetto)

Francesco would be less tired, if he didn't go out clubbing every evening.

(Present conditional → se + imperfect subjunctive)

Note: the construction se fossi (if I were, imperfect subjunctive) + in + pronoun + present conditional is often used to give advice.

Se fossi in voi, non fumerei. 

If I were you (plural), I wouldn't smoke.

Se fossi in te, mi riposerei.

If I were you, I'd have a rest.

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