French Grammar Guide for non-francophones

Past Conditional (e.g.: j'aurais parlé)

Overview of the Past Conditional

The past conditional is used to describe events that would have happened under certain circumstances. For example, Si tu m'avais donné de l'argent, j'aurais acheté une voiture. As this example illustrates, it describes a past action that did not happened since the condition in the first part of the sentence was not met.

Like the present conditional, the past conditional should not be used immediately after the word si; rather, use the imperfect or plus-que-parfait instead (e.g.: Si tu avais dit la vérité, on n'aurait pas eu de problèmes).

The past conditional is the form used to mean "could have" and "should have" in French. For these, use the verbs pouvoir (j'aurais pu t'aider, "I could have helped you") and devoir (j'aurais dû venir, "I should have come").

Another common use of the past conditional is to politely indicate an opinion about a past event, e.g.: J'aurais préféré que tu sois venu.

How to form the Past Conditional

The past conditional is formed by using the present conditional of avoir, followed by the past participle. This is illustrated in the following table:

past conditional Translation
j'aurais parlé "I would have spoken"
tu aurais parlé "you would have spoken"
il,elle,on aurait parlé "he, she, one would have spoken"
nous aurions parlé "we would have spoken"
vous auriez parlé "you would have spoken"
ils/elles auraient parlé "they would have spoken"

 

Could Have, Should Have, Would Have

The past conditional is the tense used to express "could have", "should have" and "would have". To mean "could have", use the past conditional of the verb pouvoir, e.g.:

  • "I could have helped" > j'aurais pu aider.

To mean "should have", use the past conditional of the verb devoir, e.g.:

  • "I should have helped" > j'aurais dû aider.

To mean "would have", use the past conditional of any other verb, e.g.:

  • "I would have helped, but ..." > j'aurais aidé, mais ...

 

Verb conjugation:
 
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