The Conditionnel Passé

The conditionnel passé (past conditional) is used to express what would have taken place in the past had some other action, event, or situation occurred.

Forming the conditionnel passé

The conditionnel passé is formed by using the conditional of the helping verb (avoir or être) + the past participle of the action being performed. Conditionnel passé observes the same rules of agreement as the passé composé. The past conditional tells what the subject would have done:

  • Je l'aurais salué, mais je ne l'ai pas vu. (I would have greeted him, but I didn't see him.)
  • Elles seraient arrivées à l'heure, mais leur voiture était en panne. (They would have arrived on time, but their car broke down.)
  • Anne se serait déjà réveillée, mais son réveil n'a pas marché. (Anne would have already awakened, but her alarm clock didn't work.)

Negating the conditionnel passé

To negate a sentence in the conditionnel passé, simply put ne and the negative word around the conjugated helping verb:

  • Même avec plus de temps, il n'aurait jamais fini cet examen. (Even with more time, he would never have finished that test.)
  • Je n'aurais plus dansé parce que j'avais mal aux pieds. (I wouldn't have danced any more because my feet hurt.)

Remember that pronouns remain before the conjugated verb:

  • Ces chaussures? Il ne les aurait jamais achetées. (Those shoes? He never would have bought them.)

Questions in the conditionnel passé

To form a question using inversion, reverse the order of the subject pronoun and the verb, and join them with a hyphen:

  • Serait‐elle venue sans son mari? (Would she have come without her husband?)

To negate an inverted question, put ne and the negative expression around the inverted form. Remember that all object and adverbial pronouns must remain before the conjugated form of the verb:

  • N'auriez‐vous pas aidé ces gens? (Wouldn't you have helped those people?)

Uses of the conditionnel passé

Like the conditional, the conditionnel passé is used to express a possible action in the past:

  • Serait‐il arrivé pendant mon absence? (Could he have arrived during my absence?)

Also like the conditional, the conditionnel passé is used by reporters and journalists to describe an action that is unsure:

  • Deux accidents de voiture auraient eu lieu hier. (It is reported [alleged, rumored, said] that two car accidents took place yesterday.)