The conditional is a very useful, multipurpose tense in Spanish, so I thought I would dedicate a few posts to it. The usefulness in all the technical jibber jabber? A lot of preserving tone has to do with choosing structures. Hopefully you’ll see what I mean pretty quickly here.
How is the conditional like the future?
Unlike the past, present or future, which are all absolute, the conditional is always relative. Today I’ll look at the conditional and the retrospective future. Don’t worry, I’ll stick to the concrete. I love words, but no need to get lost in them.
Ok, so how is the conditional like the future? Take a direct quote that mentions a future action.
“La compañía recortará personal en respuesta a la crisis económica.”
When reworded and made an indirect report of a quote (that already happened and is in the past), the future part of what was actually said–the part that is declared to be happening in the future–is replaced with the conditional.
El portavoz anunció que la compañía recortaría personal en respuesta a la crisis económica
Now here is where the choice comes into play. You could also just go with the imperfect: El portavoz anunció que la compañía iba a recortar personal en respuesta a la crisis económica. But this makes it sound like the company was going to cut personnel… and then perhaps didn’t.
So you see, using the conditional here preserves the same sense of determination as the future tense does in the direct quote.
When it doesn’t work
Of course this shift from the future to the conditional doesn’t work for commands at all. It takes the command out of the command and turns it into a neutral statement.
“¡Recorten el personal!” –> *El jefe dijo que recortaríamos el personal.
So for orders, the strategy should be either an auxiliary modal (could, would, should and the like) or go with the subjunctive–the preterite imperfect subjunctive, to be precise.
“¡Recorten el personal!” –> Dijo que tendríamos que recortar personal
(Conditional tense using the modal expession “tener que”)
“¡Recorten el personal!” –> Nos ordenó que recortáramos el personal.
(Imperfect subjuntive alternative)
Hope it was helpful!
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