Teaching the Conditional Tense in French

Rachel Hanson
Que ferais-tu si tu gagnais beaucoup d'argent?

For teachers with students who are English native speakers, teaching the conditional tense in French is quite simple. In most cases, the French conditional is used similarly to how it is used in English.

French Conditional Usage

In general, the French conditional is used anywhere in English that you would place the modal verb 'would' in front of the main verb. For example, if you say: if a new shop is built, it would be beneficial for the town, you are expressing something that is not certain, or not even scheduled to happen. This is the crucial difference between the auxiliary 'will' and the auxiliary 'would' in English. In French, you have the same dichotomy between the French future tense and the French conditional. Use the French future (which resembles the conditional in spelling) to express something that is likely, or at least scheduled to happen. Use the French conditional to describe something that is a real 'if', or something that you would like to happen, but that you don't foresee becoming reality.

Teaching the Conditional Tense in French

In order to teach the conditional to your French students, you will need to make the usage of the conditional clear, but also teach the verb endings and the roots to which the endings must be added. The conditional is simple in the sense that there is only one set of endings; however, there are several verbs that have an irregular root to which you must add the standard endings. Although there are several of these irregular roots, the roots are the same for the conditional and for the future tense, which means that learning these irregular stems will allow you to conjugate more than one French verb tense correctly.

French Conditional Endings

The French conditional endings resemble the French future endings, so be sure to distinguish one from the other. The conditional endings are as follows:

  • Je: ais
  • Tu: ais
  • Ils/elles/on: ait
  • Nous: ions
  • Vous: iez
  • Ils/elles: aient

French Conditional Stems

The endings above are only half of the conjugation; you also need the stem to which you can add the conditional endings. Regular 'er' and 'ir' verbs take the infinitive of the verb as the root; for example, the regular verb marcher takes marcher as the root, and adds the ending above that corresponds to the person. If you wanted to say 'I would walk', you would say: je marcherais.Regular 're' verbs are slightly different; take the infinitive, erase the 'e' and then add the stem; 'I would sell' would use the conditional of vendre: je vendrais. The easy way to remember this is by the simple rule that 'all' conditional stems end with the letter 'r'. This rule will help you remember to take the 'e' off 're' verbs, but it will also help your students remember the irregular conditional stems.

Irregular Conditional Stems

Lastly, students of French must learn the list of French verbs that have an irregular stem in the conditional tense. While this list is not excessively long, it must be simply learned by heart. Give your students the list, familiarize them with the forms, and then come up with an activity to practice the irregular verbs in the conditional.

Teaching Activities for the Conditional

Once you have finished teaching the conditional tense in French, you'll want to have several activities lined up that can help your students make the new knowledge more concrete. Use dreams and future hopes as a good starting base for the activities and/or games you create. Ask the students what they would do if they won a million dollars, where they would live if they could choose any place on Earth, who they would meet/date if they could choose any celebrity, etc.

Having the students write a book is a good activity for younger students; create ten prompts like the ones mentioned above, and let the students fill in the blanks. For older students, you can let the students come up with the prompts and then let them pass the prompts on to their classmates.

Once the students have reviewed their new French tense a bit, they will be using it in no time!

Teaching the Conditional Tense in French