Italian Language Blog

How to use the Past Conditional in Italian Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in Grammar

Last week we took a look at the present conditional, which, if you missed it, you can find HERE. Today we are going to look at il condizionale passato (the past conditional). Here are a couple of examples of how we conjugate it, firstly with the auxiliary verb essere (to be):

Coniugazione del verbo essere: Conjugation of the verb to be:
io sarei stato/a
tu saresti stato/a
lui sarebbe stato
lei sarebbe stata
noi saremmo stati/e
voi sareste stati/e
loro sarebbero stati/e
I would have been
you would have been (sing, inf.)
he would have been
she would have been
we would have been
you would have been (plural)
they would have been

This second example is built with the auxiliary verb avere (to have):

Coniugazione del verbo avere: Conjugation of the verb to have:
io avrei avuto
tu avresti avuto
lui/lei avrebbe avuto
noi avremmo avuto
voi avreste avuto
loro avrebbero avuto
I would have had
you would have had (sing, inf.)
he/she would have had
we would have had
you would have had (plural)
they would have had

The past conditional is used:

1. to express a regret:
avrei dovuto seguire il consiglio di mio padre! = I should have followed my father’s advice!
sarebbe stato meglio partire ieri = it would have been better to leave yesterday
me lo sarei dovuto immaginare! = I should have imagined that/it!

2. to express disbelief, incredulity:
chi l’avrebbe mai detto! = who would ever have thought it! (literally: who would have ever said it!)
l’avresti pensato che era così antipatico? = would you have thought that he he could be so unfriendly? (literally: that he was so unfriendly)
chi l’avrebbe mai immaginato che la torre di Pisa pendeva così tanto!
= who would ever  have imagined that the tower of Pisa leaned so much?

La Torre di Pisa. Photo: (CC) by Maxime Guilbot

3. to report a piece of news that has not been verified, or that we have doubts about:
la notizia sarebbe stata diffusa di proposito dalla polizia = it is thought that the news has been spread by the police on purpose (literally: the news would have been spread)
secondo i giornali il presidente della società avrebbe presentato le dimissioni
= according to newspapers the president of the society has handed in his resignations (literally: would have handed in)
alcune fonti internazionali riferiscono che ci sarebbe stato un colpo di stato in Antartide = some international fonts report that there has been a coupe in the Antarctic (literally: there would have been a coupe)

4. to say what we would have done if the conditions had been different:
se fossimo stati più ricchi avremmo comprato una casa al mare in Liguria = if we had been richer we would have bought a house on the coast in Liguria
se avessi avuto più tempo a Venezia, mi sarebbe piaciuto visitare anche l’isola di Torcello = If I had had more time in Venice, I would have liked to have visited the island of Torcello as well
se ieri non avesse piovuto il bucato si sarebbe asciugato completamente = if it hadn’t rained yesterday the washing would have dried completely

Torcello. Photo: (CC) by John W. Schulze

5. to express the future in the past:
Maria mi ha detto che oggi sarebbe andata a Sarzana = Maria told me that she would go to Sarzana today (literally: today she would have gone to Sarzana)
non immaginavo che ci sarebbe voluto così tanto tempo = I didn’t imagine that it would take such a long time (literally: it would have taken)
ho chiesto a Giorgio quando sarebbe tornato da New York = I asked Giorgio when he would come back from New York (literally: when he would have come back)

As usual, if you have any questions please leave a comment.

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  1. June:

    Ci piace tantissimo l’ isola di Torcello–specialmente La Locanda Cipriani e le due grandi chiese (una infatti una basilica). Grazie per la foto! JS

  2. Yolanda:

    This is something I get wrong every single time I try to use it – every time!
    I just need to spend the time for it to properly soak into my brain and hopefully it will come out right when I need it next time.
    Great, informative post to give me the extra push to actually sit down and learn it properly! Thanks, Yolanda.

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