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In Portuguese, we use the conditional tense to express desire, talk about unreal scenarios, or convey good manners. As you’ll soon see, however, the imperfect tense serves the same purpose and is more common in spoken language.
In the first half of this post, we’ll look into the Portuguese conditional tense – conjugation and usage. In the second half, we’ll find out what the Portuguese equivalents of English conditionals look like.
Let’s dive right into it.
Portuguese conditional tense
It is relatively easy to conjugate verbs in the conditional tense. We go from the infinitive form (our stem) and add the following endings to it: -ia, -ias, -ia, -íamos, -iam.
Let’s take the verb gostar as an example:
Gostar | Conditional Condicional
Vocês Eles, elas
The following verbs are exceptions to the above (the endings are the same but the stem doesn’t correspond to the infinitive form):
Vocês Eles, elas
We can use the conditional tense in several situations as shown below. In spoken language, however, the imperfect* tense is more common (and sounds more colloquial).
That said, let’s take a look at the different contexts where we can use the conditional tense.
In English, the first conditional is used to talk about future scenarios that we believe are possible (When I finish work, I’ll call you.)
In this context, we use the future subjunctive for the if-clause and the future indicative for the main one.
future sub. (if-clause) > future ind. (main clause) Se dormires bem esta noite, amanhã vais-te sentir melhor. If you sleep well tonight, tomorrow you’ll feel better.
Again, the order in which the clauses appear doesn’t matter:
future ind. (main clause) > future sub. (if-clause) Certamente que vamos emagrecer se reduzirmos à comida. We’ll certainly lose weight if we cut down on the food.
Second conditional – unrealistic
In English, the second conditional is used to denote wishful thinking, thought experiments, and suppositions (I wouldn’t worry if I were you.)
In this context, we use the imperfect subjunctive in the if-clause and the conditional tense in the main:
imperfect sub. (if-clause) > conditional (main clause) Se fosse rico compraria um Ferrari. If I was rich, I would buy a Ferrari.
Another example with reversed clause-order:
conditional (main clause) > imperfect sub. (if-clause) Andaria sempre de t-shirt se vivesse no Equador. I would always wear t-shirts if I lived in Ecuador.
Again, in spoken language, we tend to more often use the imperfect indicative instead of the conditional:
imperfect sub. (if-clause) > imperfect ind. (main clause) Se fosse rico comprava um Ferrari.
Third conditional – lost cause
In English, the third conditional is used to imagine the result of an unrealistic action or situation in the past (If he had studied harder, he would have passed the exam).
In this context, we use a compound structure in the if-clause and the conditional in the main:
imperfect sub. [ter] + past participle (if-clause) > conditional (main clause) Se não tivessem bebido tanto agora não estariam ressacados agora. If you hadn’t drunk so much, you wouldn’t have had a hangover now.
As in the second conditional, we often use the imperfect indicative in the main clause instead of the conditional:
imperfect sub. [ter] + past participle (if-clause) > imperfect ind. (main clause) Se não tivessem bebido tanto agora não estavam ressacados.