The conditional mood is a grammatical mood used to express a proposition whose validity is dependent on some condition, possibly counterfactual. It thus refers to a distinct verb form that expresses a hypothetical state of affairs, or an uncertain event, that is contingent on another set of circumstances. An example of a verb in the conditional mood is the French aimerait, meaning “would love” (from the verb aimer, “to love”).
Conditional mood often refers to an inflected verb form, like the example just given. However the term is also sometimes used in relation to an analytic construction that performs the same function. Thus a construction like the English would love will sometimes be described as representing the conditional mood. In some informal contexts, such as language teaching, it may be called the “conditional tense”.
The conditional mood is generally found in the independent clause (apodosis) of a conditional sentence, namely the clause that expresses the result of the condition, rather than the dependent clause (protasis) expressing the condition. The protasis will often use a different verb form, depending on the grammatical rules of the language in question, such as a past tense form or the subjunctive mood. This is exemplified by the English sentence “If you loved me you would support me” – here the conditional would support appears in the apodosis, while the protasis (the condition clause) uses instead the simple past form loved.
Not every conditional sentence involves the conditional mood (and some languages do not have a conditional mood at all). For example, in the sentence “If I win, he will be disappointed”, the conditional circumstance is expressed using the future marker will. Also a conditional verb form may have other uses besides expressing conditionality; for example the English would construction may also be used for past habitual action (“When I was young I would happily walk three miles to school every day”), or with future-in-the-past meaning.
Conditional mood can be denoted by the glossing abbreviation COND. Some languages distinguish more than one conditional mood; the East African language Hadza, for example, has a potential conditional expressing possibility, and a veridical conditional expressing certainty.
This article describes the formation of the conditional forms of verbs in certain languages. For fuller details of the construction of conditional sentences, see Conditional sentence (and for English specifically, English conditional sentences).
If I asked for the money, I would give it back.
If they gave me the money, I would pay it back.
If they didn’t lend me the money, I would be angry.
If I didn’t pay the money back, they would be unhappy.
He would be unhappy if I didn’t lend the money.
He would be angry if I didn’t lend the money.
She wouldn’t pay it back if I lent her the money.
The Second Conditional is used to talk about ‘impossible’ situations.
If we were in London today, we would be able to go to the concert in Hyde Park.
If I had millions dollars, I’d give a lot to charity.
If there were no hungry people in this world, it would be a much better place.
If everyone had clean water to drink, there would be a lot less disease.
Note that after I / he/ she /it we often use the subjunctive form ‘were’ and not ‘was’. (Some people think that ‘were’ is the only ‘correct’ form but other people think ‘was’ is equally ‘correct’ .)
If she were happy in her job, she wouldn’t be looking for another one.
If I lived in Japan, I’d have sushi every day.
If they were to enter our market, we’d have big problems.
Note the form ‘If I were you’ which is often used to give advice.
If I were you, I’d look for a new place to live.
If I were you, I’d go back to school and get more qualifications.
The Second Conditional is also used to talk about ‘unlikely’ situations.
If I went to China, I’d visit the Great Wall.
If I was the President, I’d reduce taxes.
If you were in my position, you’d understand.
Note that the choice between the first and the second conditional is often a question of the speaker’s attitude rather than of facts. Compare these examples. Otto thinks these things are possible, Peter doesn’t.
Otto – If I win the lottery, I’ll buy a big house.
Peter – If I won the lottery, I’d buy a big house.
Otto – If I get promoted, I’ll throw a big party.
Peter – If I got promoted, I’d throw a big party.
Otto – If my team win the Cup, I’ll buy champagne for everybody.
Peter – If my team won the Cup, I’d buy champagne for everybody.
As is typical for many languages, full conditional sentences in English consist of a condition clause specifying a condition or hypothesis, and a consequence clause or apodosis specifying what follows from that condition. The condition clause is a dependent clause, most commonly headed by the conjunction if, while the consequence is contained in the main clause of the sentence. Either clause may appear first.
Different types of conditional sentences (depending largely on whether they refer to a past, present or future time frame) require the use of particular verb forms (tenses and moods) to express the condition and the consequence. In English language teaching the most common patterns are referred to as first conditional, second conditional and third conditional; there is also a zero conditional and mixed conditional.