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Il Periodo Ipotetico Posted by on Sep 7, 2017 in Grammar

When we hypothesise about the past, present or future and predict what the consequences might be we use a grammatical form called il periodo ipotetico (conditional sentences). A conditional sentence contains both a hypothesis introduced by the preposition se (if), and a statement of consequence.

In Italian we have three types of periodo ipotetico. Let’s have a look at how they are constructed:

Se vincessi la lotteria, comprerei una casa sulla costa ligure. Photo by Geoff

1. Periodo Ipotetico della Realtà

The periodo ipotetico della realtà presents situations which are real or possible. For this reason we use il modo indicativo (used to make factual statements, ask questions, or express opinions as if they were facts). Let’s have a look at some practical examples:

se piove, ci bagniamo (if it rains, we’ll get wet)
se domani c’è il sole, andremo al mare (if tomorrow is sunny, we’ll go to the sea)
se domenica sarò libero, verrò volentieri alla gita (if I’m free on Sunday, I’ll be happy to come on the trip)
se abbiamo dimenticato qualcosa, lo prenderemo al ritorno (if we’ve forgotten something, we’ll get it on the way back)

Sometimes we use l’imperativo (the imperative) in the clause describing the consequence:

se non capite, ditemelo (if you don’t understand, tell me)
se sei stanco, riposati (if you are tired, have a rest)

2. Periodo Ipotetico della Possibilità

The periodo ipotetico della possibilità presents situations which are unlikely or unreal at present. For this reason we use il congiuntivo imperfetto (the imperfect subjunctive) in the hypothetical clause, and il condizionale presente (the present conditional) to express the possible outcome. Let’s have a look at some practical examples:

se vincessi la lotteria, comprerei una casa sulla costa ligure (if I won the lottery, I’d buy a house on the Ligurian coast)
se non piovesse, potremmo andare a fare una passeggiata (if it weren’t raining, we could go for a walk)
ci farebbe molto piacere se venissi anche tu (we’d be really pleased if you came as well)
se avessi più mele, farei della marmellata (if I had more apples, I’d make some jam)

3. Periodo Ipotetico della Irrealtà

The periodo ipotetico della irrealtà presents situations in the past which are contrary to what actually happened. For this reason we use il congiuntivo trapassato (the pluperfect subjunctive) in the hypothetical clause, and il condizionale passato (the past conditional) to express the hypothetical outcome. Let’s have a look at some practical examples:

se avessimo saputo che dormivi, non saremmo venuti (if we’d known that you were asleep, we wouldn’t have come)
se aveste portato l’ombrello, non vi sareste bagnati (if you’d brought the umbrella, you wouldn’t have got wet)
se fossi stato al tuo posto, avrei accettato la proposta (if I’d been in your situation, I would have accepted the offer)

N.B. in colloquial Italian l’imperfetto indicativo (the imperfect indicative) is commonly used in one or both clauses. For example, instead of saying se avessimo saputo che dormivi, non saremmo venuti (if we’d known that you were asleep, we wouldn’t have come), you might hear:

se sapevamo che dormivi, non saremmo venuti
se avessimo saputo che dormivi, non venivamo
se sapevamo che dormivi, non venivamo

4. Periodo Ipotetico Misto

We also have a form that mixes il periodo ipotetico della irrealtà with il periodo ipotetico della possibilità when the hypothetical situation is in the past, but the result carries on into the present, e.g.:

se tu avessi continuato a studiare, oggi potresti essere un professore (if you had carried on studying, you could be a professor today)
se avessimo portato la mappa, ora non saremmo perduti (if we had brought the map, now we wouldn’t be lost)

Studiate bene che la settimana prossima ci sarà il test!

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Comments:

  1. Paul:

    Bravi! I find the point at which congiuntivo is introduced to learners is always in the wrong context. It’s usually introduced as a next phase of learning tenses. Present, past, future, conditional, congiuntivo. But this throws non-romance language speakers because it’s not the verb conjugations and construction that’s difficult it’s the mood/feeling.

    You could say the same for conditional but as that has a similar construct to English is less problematic.

    Looking at it from this perspective of how to speak about the hypothetical is much better way to understand this blasted concept. I tie myself in knots knowing when is conditional and when is congiuntivo.

    Thanks for an excellent post

    • Serena:

      @Paul Salve Paul, grazie per i complimenti. Sono contenta che il post ti sia utile.
      Saluti da Serena


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