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How to Use the Italian Subjunctive Mood (Parts 4-5): Italian Hypothetical Phrases

How to use the Italian Subjunctive Mood (Parts 4-5) is a summary page of our  blogs on the Italian subjunctive mood use with Italian hypothetical phrases.  

The different types of Italian hypothetical phrases and the sentence structure used to create each is given here.  

Click on the link at the end of each section for the complete blog, which will include example phrases and conjugations of subjunctive mood verbs and other verb tenses needed to create Italian hypothetical phrases.

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Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog               The Italian subjunctive mood can be used to make Italian hypothetical phrases and talk about love!

 

How to Use the Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases

 

This is the fourth blog post in the “Speak Italian” series that focuses on how to use the Italian subjunctive mood, or “il congiuntivo.” This blog and the one to follow (in November 2017) will complete our list of uses for the subjunctive mood.

To take that giant step from simple beginning sentences to more complex and fluid sentences in Italian, in this segment, we will discuss how to form Italian hypothetical phrases for probable and improbable “if” situations in Italian in the present. We will learn how to conjugate the Italian subjunctive imperfetto and how to use the Italian conditional tense to construct our improbable Italian hypothetical phrases.  

Some of this material is adapted from our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers © 2012 by Stella Lucente, LLC, found on www.learntravelitalian.com. Special thanks to Italian instructor Maria Vanessa Colapinto.


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations

Hypothetical phrases in the present tense describe situations that are likely to happen, or probable situations.

In probable situations, the stated condition given in the “if” clause is a condition that a person may experience in the present and the consequence that will follow is a situation that will almost certainly happen.

A common example usually given for a probable hypothetical phrase relates to the weather, such as “If it snows, my feet will get cold when I go out.” We all know that given the condition just described, the resulting situation will happen to some extent!

The “if” phrase does not need to start the sentence, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our example sentence again: “My feet will get cold when I go out if it snows.

 

To Summarize: Italian Hypothetical Phrases for Probable Situations

 

Italian Hypothetical  Phrases—Probable Situations
The condition described in the “if” clause and the consequence that will follow are  probable;
both will 
almost certainly happen.

 

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations

If + Present Verb > Present or Future Verb

Now read the following table, which describes the sentence structure and the verb forms to use when creating a hypothetical sentence for a probable situation. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
Probable Situations
  English   Italian
Condition (If) If + Present Se + Present (or Future)
Consequence (Probable Result)   Present or Future   Present or Future

 

From the table above, it is easy to see that English and Italian both express hypothetical, probable situations in a very similar way!

  1. In English and Italian, for our condition in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian) and then most often use the simple present tense.
  2. For situations that are in the more distant future but really likely to happen (really probable), Italian may use the future tense for the condition clause.
  3. For the consequence in the main clause, the present or the future tense will work in English.
  4. In Italian, again, the present or the future tense can be used for the consequence in the main clause. In general, Italian uses the present tense for the immediate future, so the present tense is the most common form to choose for the consequence clause in Italian. But the future tense can also be used for an event in the more distant future.

A review of the  Italian future tense and the conjugations of the most commonly used Italian verbs in the future  can be found in Chapters 15 and 16 of our  textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers.

To follow are some examples of the probable hypothetical situation from our dialogue, with our “if” condition and the consequence phrases underlined.

You will notice that we introduced these lines in the dialogue with the idea, or condition, that the characters Anna and Giovanni have become a couple; therefore, the consequence is that in the future, they will do everything together.  And, for this couple, the consequence is almost certain to happen.

 

Se il tempo è bello, andranno al mare per il weekend a casa del papà di Giovanni.
If the weather is nice, they go (will go) to the sea for the weekend to Giovanni’s father’s house.

Se Anna vuole andare al ristorante o al cinema, lui la porta.
If Ann wants to go to a restaurant or to the movies, he takes (will take) her.

Se lei vuole restare a casa, loro restano a casa insieme.
If she wants to stay at home, they stay (will stay) at home together.


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations with a Command

Hypothetical phrases in the present tense can be used to refer to a situation and then give “advice” in the form of a direct command.

Phrases like “If you feel… (this way)” or “If you make/do… (something)” are very common in conversation. The speaker may describe a certain situation two people know to be likely, and then, without waiting for a reply, the speaker may give a command about what should be done in that situation. In the speaker’s mind, perhaps, that command will virtually always solve a perceived problem.

Think about how often parents give advice to their children in this way—without first waiting to hear how the children really feel! Here is a common exchange in my house, parent to child, of course. “Dinner will be ready in a half hour. Don’t eat cookies. If you are hungry, eat some fruit!”

The “if” phrase need not start the sentence in these cases, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our example sentence again: “Eat some fruit if you are hungry!

 

To Summarize: Italian Hypothetical Phrases for Probable Situations with a Command

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases—Probable Situations with a Command
The condition described in the “if” clause is  probable, and the “advice” given in command form will almost certainly solve a problem, and/or result in the consequence that describes the future event.

 

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations with a Command

If + Present Verb > Imperative Verb

Now read the following table, which describes the sentence structure and the verb forms to use when creating a hypothetical sentence for a probable situation when giving a command. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:

Probable Situations
with a Command

  English   Italian
Condition (If) If + Present Se + Present (or Future)
Consequence
(Advice/Probable Result)
  Imperative   Imperative

 

From the table above, it is easy to see that English and Italian express hypothetical probable situations with a command in a very similar way!

  1. In English and Italian, for our condition in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian), and then most often use the simple present tense.
  2. For situations that are in the more distant future but are likely to happen (probable), Italian may use the future tense for the condition clause.
  3. For the consequence in the main clause, use the command verb form in English and Italian. The English command form is easy, and for the most part, we don’t even realize we are using it! Just remove the “to” from the infinitive form of the English verb. “To eat” is an infinitive in English. “Eat!” is a command.
  4. A review of the Italian command form will not be provided here, but can be found in Chapter 9 of our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers. (Note: In writing, Italian emphasizes that the command form is in use with an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence.)

Below is an example of a probable situation with a command from our dialogue, with our condition and consequence phrases underlined.

 

Fammi sapere se tu sei libera per un weekend presto!
Let me know if you are free for a weekend soon!

 


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
 Improbable Situations

Hypothetical phrases in the subjunctive mood with the conditional tense describe situations in the present that are not likely to happen and therefore are  improbable.

These types of phrases are used in order to “wonder” out loud or “suppose” what  could happen in a particular situation if things were “different” from what we know to be true.

In improbable hypothetical situations, the stated condition given in the “if” clause and the consequence that will follow are  situations that could happen (possible), but they are very unlikely to happen and are therefore improbable.

A common example often given for an improbable hypothetical phrase relates to money, such as, “If I were rich, I would travel to Italy.” Here, the condition as stated is unlikely; in general, one is usually either rich or not.  This in turn makes the outcome unlikely to happen. With an improbable hypothetical phrase such as this, there may be a note of wishful thinking or irony in the statement. We are dealing with supposition, rather than facts.

The “if” phrase does not need to start the sentence, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our example sentence again: “I would travel to Italy if I were rich.”

In fact, I always remember this type of Italian sentence with the following rule: If you start an Italian sentence with the present conditional tense, the imperfetto subjunctive mood must follow in the next phrase!

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Impossible Situations

Sometimes, a situation proposed for the present is so improbable that it is actually impossible, although it may be interesting to bring up in conversation. Think about how we sometimes pretend to be someone or something we know we cannot be.  By wondering about these impossible situations, we are able to reveal a little something about ourselves and the world we actually live in.

For instance, maybe I am someone who loves cats. What comes to my mind when I think of the lives my cats lead here in America is an “easy” life.  I may convey the complicated idea of how I might enjoy an “easy” life myself by relating my own life to the lives of my cats.

If I were a cat, I would live in a nice house and not have to work.
I would live in a nice house and not have to work if I were a cat.

Or, maybe I am someone who would like to change something about my appearance, which is easier today than in the past, but the condition and consequence are still impossible for me.

If my eyes were green,  I could find work as a model.
I could find work as a model if my eyes were green.

 

To Summarize: Italian Hypothetical Phrases for  Improbable Situations

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases—Improbable Situations
The condition described in the “if” clause is improbable to varying degrees, and therefore is unlikely to result in the consequence that describes the future event one is wondering about.

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Improbable Situations

If + Imperfetto Subjunctive Verb >
Present Conditional Verb

Now read the following table, which describes the sentence structure and the verb forms to use when creating a hypothetical sentence for an improbable situation when we want to wonder about something. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:

Improbable Situations

  English   Italian
Condition
(If: Wonder)
If + Subjunctive Se + Imperfetto Subjunctive
Consequence
(Supposition)
  Conditional   Present Conditional

 

From the table above, it is easy to see that English and Italian speakers think alike, although this may not be so evident to the English speaker at first.

Use of the subjunctive mood is becoming less common in English conversation, and even in widely respected American newspapers and magazines.

Some English examples:

For instance, instead of “If I was…,” correct English would be “If I were…” to signal that the phrase to follow is hypothetical and the consequence unlikely.

Or, instead of “If I saw…,” correct use of the subjunctive would be “If I had seen…” (It is never grammatically correct to say “I seen…,” despite what one may actually hear in some towns in America today!

To make matters more complicated, the English subjunctive form of many verbs is similar to the regular past tense form.

At any rate, let’s summarize how to make probable hypothetical phrases in English and Italian:

  1. In English and Italian, for the condition we are wondering about in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian), and then use the subjunctive mood.
  2. For the consequence/supposition in the main clause, use the present conditional tense in English and Italian. A review of the imperfetto subjunctive mood for avere, essere, and stare, and -are, -ere, -ire infinitive verbs will follow this section.

 

Below are some examples of phrases that used possible hypothetical situations from our dialogue, with our condition and consequence phrases underlined.

Se io non fossi occupata all’università, verrei a trovarvi di nuovo a Roma!
If I weren’t so busy at college, I would come to visit you all again in Rome!

Sarei molto contenta se tu fossi venire a trovarmi a febbraio.
I would be very happy if you were to come to see me in February.

 Click here to read the complete blog: Italian Subjunctive (Part 4) about Italian Hypothetical Phrases in the Present Tense


Italian Subjunctive (Part 5): Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Italian Family Reunion

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog               The Italian subjunctive mood can be used to make Italian hypothetical phrases and talk about your own Italian family history!

How to Use the Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past

This is the fifth blog post in the “Speak Italian” series that focuses on how to use the Italian subjunctive mood, or “il congiuntivo,” and will include Italian hypothetical phrases.

To take that giant step from simple beginning sentences to more complex and fluid sentences in Italian, in this segment, we will discuss how to form Italian hypothetical phrases for probable and impossible “if” situations in the past in Italian. We will learn how to conjugate the Italian trapassato subjunctive mood and how to form the Italian past conditional tense.  With these two tenses, we will be able to construct sentences and refer to the past using Italian hypothetical phrases. We will also introduce the passato remoto past tense that is used to describe actions that began and were completed in the past when writing about historical events or narrating a story.

Some of this material is adapted from our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers © 2012 by Stella Lucente, LLC, found on www.learntravelitalian.com. Special thanks to Italian instructor Maria Vanessa Colapinto.


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations – Past

Probable hypothetical phrases that refer to the past describe situations that were likely to have happened in the past.

We can talk about these past situations as if they had in fact happened by using the knowledge we have learned directly, from a particular individual or source in the present, or indirectly, by making assumptions gained from history.

In probable situations that took place in the past, the stated condition given in the “if” clause is a condition that the subject likely experienced in the past and the consequence that will follow is a situation that is thought to have almost certainly happened.

Examples usually given for a probable hypothetical phrase in the past often relate to historical situations that we know in general to be true,  such as, “If you were one of  the first settlers in America, your life was hard.” We all know that given the condition just described, the resulting situation must have happened to some extent!

The “if” phrase does not need to start the sentence, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our example sentence again: “Your life was hard if you were one of the first settlers in America.”

 

To Summarize: Hypothetical Phrases for Probable Situations – Past

 

Italian Hypothetical  Phrases—Probable Situations – Past
The condition described in the “if” clause and the consequence that followed in the past were  probable;  both almost certainly did happen.

 

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations – Past

If + Past Tense Verb > Past Tense Verb

Now read the following table, which describes the sentence structure and the verb forms to use when creating a hypothetical sentence for a probable situation that occurred in the past. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
Probable Situations – Past
  English   Italian
Condition (If) If  Simple Past Tense  Se +  Passato Prossimo -or-

Imperfetto Past Tense

Consequence (Probable Result)   Simple Past Tense   Passato Prossimo -or-

Imperfetto Past Tense

 

From the table above, it is easy to see that English and Italian both express hypothetical, probable situations that could have occurred in the past in a very similar way!

In English and Italian, for our condition in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian) and then most often use the simple past tense.  For Italian, the passato prossimo or imperfetto past tense may be used, as usual.

For the consequence in the main clause, the past tense will be again used for both English and Italian.

You may remember from our first blog on hypothetical phrases that no special tense is necessary for probable situations that occur in the present.  We used only our usual indicative present and future tenses given the certainty that these probable situations will occur.  And it is the same with probable situations that have likely occurred in the past! No special tense is needed!

To follow are some examples of the probable hypothetical situation in the past from our dialogue, with our “if” condition and the consequence phrases underlined:

In Italy in the early 1900’s, if a woman didn’t have a husband, usually she was not able to support her family.
In Italia negli anni del primo novecento, se una donna non aveva un marito, normalmente non poteva mantenere la famiglia.

At that time, if a woman wanted to work, she could be a teacher or a seamstress.
A quel tempo, se una donna voleva lavorare, poteva fare l’insegnante o la sarta.

 

 


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
 Impossible Situations -Past

Impossible hypothetical phrases in the past describe situations that did not actually take place in the past.

These situations are called “impossible” because the condition given refers to a past event that could not have been acted upon in the past and is also not something one can act on in the present.  Instead, these types of phrases are used in order to “wonder” out loud or “suppose” what  could have happened in a particular situation if things had been different in the past from what we know to be true.

Stated another way: in impossible hypothetical situations of the past, since the stated condition given in the “if” clause in the past and did not happen, it cannot be used to change the situation.  But, we can still speculate on the outcome. The consequence that might have followed can refer either to the past or to the present.

The often used phrase, “If I had known…” is a good example of an impossible hypothetical condition.  Here, the condition as stated did not happen – the person did not know something at the time, which was in the past and is now over. This in turn makes the outcome, either in the past or the present, pure speculation.

With an impossible hypothetical situation, there may be a note of regret in the statement, as the individual describes how he/she would like things to have been different now that the past event has ended. Perhaps this individual might say, “If I had known she needed me, I would have been at home.”  Or, “If I had known he was sick, I would have brought him some medicine.”

Or, another example that describes how he/she sees that things could be different now:
If Ann and her ex-boyfriend Paul had gotten back togethershe would not be happy now. *

The “if” phrase does not need to start the sentence, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our first example sentence again: “I would have been at home if I had known she needed me.”

 

In fact, I always remember this type of Italian sentence with the following rule: If you start an Italian sentence with the present or past conditional tense, the subjunctive mood must follow in the next phrase!

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*(Do you recognize this sentence from our last blog on hypothetical phrases? Here the speaker is making a supposition about the past – that in fact it was possible for Anna and her ex-boyfriend to get together, and then speculating about how Anna would feel about this today.  Neither the condition nor the consequence have taken place, however.  In the dialogue, we learn that Anna does not regret that she is no longer seeing her ex-boyfriend.  She has a new boyfriend and  is actually very happy.)

 

To Summarize: Impossible Situations – Past

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases— Impossible Situations – Past
The condition described in the “if” clause is impossible as it did not happen and is a supposition about the past; therefore the condition cannot lead to the result in the consequence speculated about, either in the past or the present.

 

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Impossible Situations – Past

 If + Trapassato Subjunctive >
Past Conditional or Present Conditional Verb

Now read the following table, which describes the sentence structure and the verb forms to use when creating a hypothetical sentence for an impossible situation when we want to speculate about something that might have happened in the past. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

The examples given use the first person “I” or “io” subject pronoun, as this is the most common form to use in conversation, but of course all subject pronouns and their respective verb conjugations are possible.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
Impossible Situations – Past
Consequence – Past
  English   Italian
Condition
(If:Supposition)
If + Past Pluperfect
(I had
+ past participle)
Se + Trapassato Subjunctive
(io avessi/fossi
+ past participle)
Consequence
(Speculation)
  Conditional +
Present Perfect
(I could, would, should +have
+ past participle)
   Past Conditional
(io avrei/sarei
+ past participle)

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
Impossible Situations – Past
Consequence – Present
  English   Italian
Condition
(If: Supposition)
If + Past Pluperfect
(I had
+ past participle)
Se + Trapasatto Subjunctive
(io avessi/fossi
+ past participle)
Consequence
(Speculation)
  Present Conditional   Present Conditional

 

The table above shows that English and Italian speakers think alike, although this may not be so evident to the English speaker at first.

1.In English and Italian, for the condition we are wondering about in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian), and then use the past tense form that indicates an event that was both started and competed in the past.  These are thought of as “remote” events.

  • In English, a remote event that was started and completed in the past uses the helping verb “had,” (rather than have) prior to adding on the past participle.  Who remembers this from English class?  Chances are we English speakers do this naturally, but now that we are learning Italian, our English grammar surfaces again!

2. For both English and Italian, the main clause that describes the speculative consequence with reference to the past will use the past conditional; to refer to the present simply use the present conditional.

  • To form the past conditional In English, we use one of our  helping verbs  – could, should, would, and add the present perfect tense (actually a past tense: “have + past participle”).
  • To form the past conditional in Italian, we use the imperfetto subjunctive forms of “to have” and “to be” (examples: io avessi or io fossi) + past participle.

 

Below are some examples of phrases that used impossible hypothetical situations from our dialogue, with our condition and consequence phrases underlined.

 

Se Anna e il suo ex-fidanzato Paolo si fossero riconciliatilei non sarebbe felice ora.
If Ann and her ex-boyfriend Paul had gotten back togethershe would not be happy now.

If Uncle Mark had not sent money to Grandmother Mary, she and the children could have starved to death.
Se lo zio Marco non avesse mandato i soldi alla bisnonna Maria, lei e i figli sarebbero potuti morire di fame.

 

At the end of this story, Mary said,   “And if Uncle Mark had not helped Grandmother Mary, you and I would not be here today!”
Alla fine della storia, Maria ha detto, “E se lo zio Marco non avesse aiutato la bisnonna Maria, tu e io non saremmo qui oggi!”

Click here to read the complete blog: Italian Subjunctive (Part 5) about Italian Hypothetical Phrases in the Past Tense


 

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blogKathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of the
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How to Use the Italian Subjunctive (Parts 4- 5) : Italian Hypothetical Phrases