THA PAST CONDITIONAL MOOD IN ITALIAN
In Italian, there is a present conditional, and there is a past conditional.
The key difference between the present conditional and the past conditional is that the first comprises one element, and the second includes two elements, the auxiliary ) and past participle. The auxiliary will be the present conditional of avere or essere, according to the verb.
What is the key difference between the present conditional and the past conditional?
When you are using the simple conditional, you describe a situation that might or not happen and which hasn’t taken place yet. Instead, the past conditional describes a situation that has already taken place, it’s the past, and you can’t change it.
Generally speaking, the Italian past conditional corresponds to the English use of would have.
The past conditional can be referred to as “compound conditional” (condizionale composto) because it combines two elements: an auxiliary and a past participle.
The conjugation of the past conditional of the verbs “essere” and “avere”.
The first one is irregular, the second is regular.
What are the main functions of the past conditional in Italian?
- The past conditional is used to say what you would have done if…
- The past conditional is used to say what you should or shouldn’t have done or what you could or couldn’t have done, with the use of the modal verbs dovere (must) and potere (can)
- The past conditional is used to say I wish, with the help of the verbs piacere(like) or volere (want)
- The past conditional is used to express the future in the past
IF I WOULD HAVE: the past conditional with the If Clause
We use the past conditional with the congiuntivo trapassato (perfect subjunctive) to say something that would have happened if…. We are describing a possibility that didn’t take place and so became impossible.
- Se avessi avuto più soldi, mi sarei iscritta ad una migliore università – If I had more money, I would have applied to a better school
- Se avessi avuto più tempo, avrei praticato più sport – If I Had more money, I would have exercised more
I SHOULD/ COULD HAVE DONE: the past conditional with DOVERE and POTERE
For a start, the modal verbs are dovere, potere, volere. We label them as “modal” because, grammar-wise, they have a lot in common. For instance, they are always followed by an infinitive verb.
So, when they are used with the past conditional, to say what one should have done, or could have done, just like in English, they comprise three elements:
auxiliary of the present conditional + past participle of the modal verb* + infinitive verb
- Avresti dovuto studiare di più → you should have studied more
- Avresti potuto chiamarlo → you could have called him
- Avremmo voluto viaggiare di più → we would have liked travelling more or we wish we travelled more
How to choose the correct auxiliary with the modal verbs?
A special note goes to choosing the correct auxiliary with the modal verbs in the past conditional.
When thinking of what auxiliary to use, you should look at the modal verb’s infinitive.
Let’s say the verb dovere is followed by andare, the correct auxiliary to use is essere.
If the verb “fare” follows dovere, the correct auxiliary to use is avere.
- Sarei dovuto andare in palestra, ma non ci sono andata – I should have gone to the gym, but I didn’t
- Avrei dovuto fare i compiti, ma non li ho fatti – I should have done my homework, but I didn’t
If the auxiliary of the verb is essere, you should make sure that the modal verb’s past participle agrees with the gender and number of the subject.
I should have gone → sarei dovuto/a andare
We could have gone → saremmo potuti/e andare
I would have liked to go → sarei voluto/a andare
I should have traveled → avrei dovuto viaggiare
I could have traveled → avrei potuto viaggiare
I would have liked travelling → avrei potuto viaggiare
I WISH: the past conditional of PIACERE and VOLERE
The past conditional of piacere and volere is translated in English in the same way.
Mi sarebbe piaciuto studiare arabo → I would have liked learning Arabic
Avrei voluto studiare arabo → I would have liked learning Arabic
Often, the past conditional of piacere and volere is the better way to translate English I WISH
Mi sarebbe piaciuto uscire con te → I wish I went out with you
Sarei voluto uscire con te → I wish I went out with you
The past conditional in the FUTURE IN THE PAST
We use the past conditional to express the future in the past, that is to say an action that took place after another one, in the past.
In other words, the future in the past expresses a future event with reference to a past action.
This pattern is very foten used with the verbs dire, pensare, credere, immaginare in the passato prossimo or impretto form. As you will see in the following sentences, both the actions described happened in the past.
- Speravo che sarebbe venuto a trovarmi → I hoped he would come to see me
- Anna ha detto che mi avrebbe chiamato → Anna said she would call me
- Non credevamo che sarebbe arrivato primo → We didn’t think he would come first
ATTENTION: the future in the past in English is mainly expressed with a simple (present) conditional.