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French Si Clauses

In our previous lessons on the French conditional, we briefly mentioned si (if) clauses, which express the possibility or likelihood of an event. These are comparable to "if/then" constructions in English, as in "if you didn't want to go, then you should have said something" or "if I rest now, I'll have more energy later." French si clauses are made up of two parts: a condition (e.g. "if I rest now") and a result ("I'll have more energy later"). They come in three different forms, each expressing different likelihoods and employing different verb tenses and moods. Let's break them down one by one. 

 

1. Si + present-tense verb
The first type of si clause describes a possible or likely event. It expresses what could or will probably happen if a present condition is met. When the "condition" part (si + verb) of the clause is in the present tense, the "result" part can be in the presentimperative, or future

 

Si on surveille pas, elle les prend et puis elle les fait tomber un par un.
If we don't watch, she takes them and then makes them fall one by one.
Cap. 23, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartement

 

Donc si vous pouvez éviter de sortir, évitez
So if you can avoid going out, avoid it.
Cap. 7, Alsace 20 - Météo des Maquilleurs

 

Même aujourd'hui, si on me fait chanter, je chanterai.
Even today, if you make me sing, I'll sing.
Cap. 55, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciens

 

2. Si + imperfect verb
The second type describes something that's contrary to the present situation or unlikely to happen. Here the si is followed by an imperfect verb and the "result" part of the clause requires the conditional:

 

Si on avait pas tant de bénévoles... cela serait pas possible. 
If we didn't have so many volunteers... it wouldn't be possible.
Cap. 34-35, Farmer François - Le stand de légumes

 

Je pourrais aller au cinéma avec toi si je n'étais pas malade. 
I could go to the movies with you if I weren't sick. 

 

As you can see from the above example, the "result" doesn't always have to follow the "condition"—it can just as easily be placed before it. So we could rewrite the "Farmer François" sentence as: Cela serait pas possible si on avait pas tant de bénévoles (it wouldn't be possible if we didn't have so many volunteers). As long as both parts of a si clause are in the right tense/mood, it doesn't matter which comes first.

 

3. Si + pluperfect verb
The final type of si clause is a lot like the second type, but a bit more complex. It describes something that's contrary to a past event—for instance, something you wish had happened or regret not having done. In other words, it expresses an impossibility. The pluperfect is paired with the past conditional here: 

 

Si j'avais su, je serais venu avec deux chevaux. 
If I had known, I would have come with two horses.
Cap. 50, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. Stephenson - Part 6

 

Hier j'aurais levé le bras pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.
Yesterday I would have raised my arm to hail the taxi if I had treated my shoulder first.
Cap. 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnel

 

 

To learn about some other meanings of si besides "if," check out this lesson. And if you have any suggestions for future lesson topics, feel free to tweet us @yabla or email us at newsletter@yabla.com.

Grammar

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