si clauses in spanish
All the possibilities of conditional clauses in Spanish

Si clauses, also known as conditionals or conditional clauses, express“If X, then Y” of a situation. When students at the intermediate level (B1 and above) hear “conditional phrases,” or “conditional clauses,” they automatically think of the conditional in Spanish, but not all these phrases use the conditional mood. In fact, many do not.

Conditional clauses are usually written using si. This si, meaning “if,” is different from sí, which is “Yes” and has an accent over the i. It’s a one-syllable word, so phonetically it’s the pronounced the same way. The accent is used to differentiate between the two words.

Uses of conditional clauses

Conditional clauses are used to express… You got it, conditions! If you do this, then that can occur. I have identified the six formats for conditional phrases, including those that use the conditional and the subjunctive.

  1. Si + present indicative + present indicative

Conditional clauses with present indicative generally express habits or consequences to actions or situations in our everyday lives.

  • Si viajo en barco, me mareo – If I travel by boat, I get seasick.
  • Si llueve, él siempre se queda en casa – If it rains, he always stays home.  
  • Si no le dan de comer, esa niña siempre llora – If they don’t feed her, that baby always cries.

These phrases also express what we take to be logical cause-and-effect ideas or standards:

  • Si no te abrigas, te enfermas – If you don’t bundle up, you get get sick.
  • Si no trabajas, no ganas dinero  – If you don’t work, you don’t make money.
  • Si te cuidas, vives muchos años – If you take care of yourself, you live many years.

In all of the above cases, we can substitute the first clause using si by cuando:

  • Cuando viajo en barco, me mareo – When I travel by boat, I get seasick.
  • Cuando llueve, él siempre se queda en casa – When it rains, he always stays home.  
  • Cuando no le dan de comer, esa niña siempre llora – When they don’t feed her, that baby always cries.

As well as the following:

  • Cuando no te abrigas, te enfermas – When you don’t bundle up, you get get sick.
  • Cuando no trabajas, no ganas dinero  – When you don’t work, you don’t make money.
  • Cuando te cuidas, vives muchos años – When you take care of yourself, you live many years.

The order of these phrases does not matter. The order of the factors does not affect the product. I can easily say No ganas dinero si no trabajas as Si no trabajas, no ganas dinero.

Note that the latter requires a comma ;).

2. Si + present indicative + future

Many conditional phrases start out with the present indicative mood in the first clause of the phrase, and use the future tense in the second clause.

Note the future in Spanish can be expressed in three ways:

  • Present indicative, as in Estudio más tarde – I study later.
  • Immediate future using ir + a, as in Voy a estudiar más tarde – I’m going to study later.
  • Future simple, as in Estudiaré más tarde – I will study later.

And just to give you a basic idea on conjugating the future, keep the entire root and add the following to any verb.

Estudiar – to study

Subject pronounFuture simple
Yo estudiaré
estudiarás
Él/ella/usted estudiará
Nosotros/nosotrasestudiaremos
Vosotros/vosotras estudiareis
Ellos/ellas/ustedesestudiarán

Let’s see how this works when you  use the format si + present indicative + future

  • Si como ahora, estudio más tarde = If I eat now, I study later.
  • Si como ahora, voy a estudiar más tarde = If I eat now, I’m going to study later.
  • Si como ahora, estudiaré más tarde = If I eat now, I will study later.

The Future Tense in Spanish

For the irregular verbs in the future: 12 Irregular Spanish Verbs in the Future and Conditional

3. Si + present indicative + imperative

Use conditional phrases with the imperative to tell someone what to do in the event something happens.

To conjugate the imperative, use the tables below.

Ar – estudiar

Subject pronounConditional
estudia
Usted estudie
Nosotros estudiemos
Vosotros estudiad
Ustedesestudien


For er/ir conjugations:

Er/ir – comer

Subject pronounConditional
come
Usted coma
Nosotros comamos
Vosotros comed
Ustedescoman

Now, in context. Because English is rather ambiguous when it comes to subject pronouns, it’s interesting to note how different the following conditional phrases are from their English counterparts:

  • Singular second person informal (tú): Si comes ahora, estudia más tarde – If you eat now, study later.
  • Singular second person formal (usted): Si come ahora, estudie más tarde – If you eat now, study later.
  • Plural third person informal (vosotros):  Si coméis ahora, estudiad más tarde – If you eat now, study later.
  • Plural third person formal (ustedes): Si comen ahora, estudien más tarde – If you eat now, study later.

Amazing how it all translates into the same thing, huh? This is essentially what makes Spanish so special :).

Note that vosotros is used in most situations in Spain, while ustedes is reserved for very formal settings. In Latin America, on the other hand, ustedes is used as both the formal and informal plural you. Latin America does not use vosotros. If you want to learn more on formality in Spanish, I have a great article for you: Formality in Spanish: Tú, Usted, Vos, Vosotros, and Ustedes.

Also, remember to be gentle with your commands! A simple por favor goes a long way ;0.

The Imperative: Affirmative Commands in Spanish

4. Si + imperfect subjunctive + conditional

Talk about impossibilities! This si clause is used to talk how things would be if they were different. It’s used to refer to the nearly impossible or highly unlikely.

First, a brief overview on conjugating the imperfect subjunctive:

Ar – hablar

Subject pronounImperfect subjunctive
Yo hablara
hablaras
Él/ella/usted hablara
Nosotros/nosotrashabláramos
Vosotros/vosotras hablarais
Ellos/ellas/ustedeshablaran


To get an idea of how to conjugate a regular er/ir verb in the imperfect subjunctive, refer to the table below:

Er/ir – comer

Subject pronounImperfect subjunctive
Yo comiera
comieras
Él/ella/usted comiera
Nosotros/nosotrascomiéramos
Vosotros/vosotras comierais
Ellos/ellas/ustedescomieran

 

Make sure not to refer to the imperfect subjunctive as “past subjunctive,” as there is more than one past tense in the subjunctive.

Then, a brief overview on conjugating the conditional. It is very much like the future tense where you keep the entire verb and add an short ending, independently of whether it is an ar, er, or ir verb. The future and the conditional also share all 12 irregular verbs.

hablar

Subject pronounConditional
Yo hablaría
hablarías
Él/ella/usted hablaría
Nosotros/nosotrashabláríamos
Vosotros/vosotras hablaríais
Ellos/ellas/ustedeshablarían


Let’s put it together:

  • Si yo hablara más idiomas, viajaría más – If I spoke more languages, I’d travel more.
  • Si yo hablara más idiomas, hablaría con más personas alrededor del mundo – If I spoke more languages, I’d speak to more people around the world.
  • Si comieras carbohidratos, no estarías tan delgada – If you ate carbs, you would not be so slim.

The Conditional in Spanish

5. Si + pluperfect subjunctive + pluperfect subjunctive

The “regretful” statements, I call them. They are not my favorites. They are used to talk about something that did not take place and what you would’ve have done if things had been otherwise.

To conjugate the pluperfect subjunctive, all you need to know is the verb haber, which will function as auxiliary verb (otherwise known as helping verb). Conjugate haber using imperfect subjunctive.

haber

Subject pronounImperfect subjunctive
Yo hubiera
hubieras
Él/ella/usted hubiera
Nosotros/nosotrashubiéramos  
Vosotros/vosotras hubierais  
Ellos/ellas/ustedeshubieran


As you probably know, auxiliary verbs precede a participle. To get the participle of a verb, follow this format:

ar ➡➡ado

er/r ➡➡ido

For example:

hablar➡➡hablado

trabajar➡➡trabajado

comer➡➡comido

vivir ➡➡vivido

With the two together, you will create the pluperfect. In  the first clause, you will use the formar si + pluperfect subjunctive and you will do the same in the second clause:

  • Si yo hubiera comido eso, me hubiera enfermado – If I had eaten that, I would’ve gotten sick.
  • Si hubieras vivido en Nueva York, hubieras aprendido inglés  – If you had lived in New York, you would’ve learned English
  • Si él hubiera trabajado en esa empresa, hubiera ganado mucho dinero –  If he had worked at the company, he would’ve made a lot of money.

6. Si + pluperfect subjunctive + perfect conditional  

Conditional phrases in this format mean the same as si + pluperfect subjunctive + pluperfect subjunctive but in this case, you will use the pluperfect in the first clause and the perfect conditional in the second clause.

The conditional perfect is created by first getting the conditional for the verb haber.

haber

Subject pronounConditional
Yo habría
habrías
Él/ella/usted habría
Nosotros/nosotrashabríamos
Vosotros/vosotras habriais
Ellos/ellas/ustedeshabrían

The conditional of haber acts as auxiliary verb, to which you add the participle. When you put the together you get conditional perfect:

  • Me habría enfermado – I would’ve gotten sick.
  • Habrías aprendido inglés – You would’ve learned English.
  • Habría ganado mucho dinero –  He would’ve made a lot of money.

Using the same examples as above, let’s put it all together to get a si clause using the conditional perfect:

  • Si yo hubiera comido eso, me habría enfermado – If I had eaten that, I would’ve gotten sick.
  • Si hubieras vivido en Nueva York, habrías aprendido inglés  – If you had lived in New York, you would’ve learned English.
  • Si él hubiera trabajado en esa empresa, habría ganado mucho dinero –  If he had worked at the company, he would’ve made a lot of money.

As you can see, the translation is the same, and they do in fact mean the same thing.

Irma Cedeno

Irma is an educator, linguist, creativity expert, cultural competence strategist, and the founder of Diáfano, a company responsible for designing and implementing Spanish classes and programs at corporations. From universities and top US institutes to Fortune 500 companies, Irma has been an integral part of language learning and cultural competence training. After travelling to 40+ countries (and counting!) and over 10 years of working in education, she developed and honed her methodology in 2013. The Diáfano Method is student-centered methodology that breaks down language learning into clear and simple steps.
Irma grew up bilingual and is a proud learner of French, Italian, Portuguese, and Japanese. Check her out at www.diafanomethod.com.

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