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 present, imperative, or future:
Si on surveille pas, elle les prend
If we don't watch, she takes them
et puis elle les fait tomber un par un.
and then makes them fall one by one.
Caption 23, Angers 7 - Un lama en plein appartementPlay Caption
Donc si vous pouvez éviter de sortir, évitez.
So if you can avoid going out, avoid it.
Caption 7, Alsace 20 - Météo des MaquilleursPlay Caption
Même aujourd'hui, si on me fait chanter, je chanterai.
Even today, if you make me sing, I'll sing.
Caption 55, Actu Vingtième - Le Repas des anciensPlay Caption
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.
Captions 34-35, Farmer François - Le stand de légumesPlay Caption
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.
Caption 50, Il était une fois - Les découvreurs - 13. StephensonPlay Caption
Hier j'aurais levé le bras
Yesterday I would have raised my arm
pour appeler le taxi si j'avais d'abord soigné mon épaule.
to hail the taxi if I had treated my shoulder first.
Captions 39-41, Le saviez-vous? - Le mode du conditionnelPlay Caption
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 email@example.com.