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The conditional mood (abbreviated cond) is the form of the verb used in conditional sentences to refer to a hypothetical state of affairs, or an uncertain event that is contingent on another set of circumstances. This mood is thus similar to the subjunctive mood, although languages that have distinct verb forms for the two use them in distinct ways.

Conditional verb forms can also have temporal uses, often for expressing "future in the past" tense.

Conditional forms in English

In the English language, the conditional mood is commonly used; however, rather than conjugating a verb (as is done to verbs in the subjunctive mood), in English, the conditional is formed by using a modal verb, such as "will" or "would", "shall" or "should", "may" or "might", and "can" (which is equivalent to "will be able to") or "could" (which is equivalent to "would be able to") that would then be attached to the primary verb, for example "eat". Thus, in present tense, "They are happy that I will eat" and in past tense, "They were happy that I would eat".

Conditional forms in Romance languages

While Latin used the indicative and subjunctive in conditional sentences, most of the Romance languages developed a conditional paradigm. The evolution of these forms (and of the innovative Romance future tense forms) is a well-known example of grammaticalization, whereby a syntactically and semantically independent word becomes a bound morpheme with a highly reduced semantic function. The Romance conditional (and future) forms are derived from the Latin infinitive followed by a finite form of the verb habēre. This verb originally meant "own/possess" in Classical Latin, but in Late Latin picked up a grammatical use as a temporal/modal auxiliary. The fixing of word order (infinitive + auxiliary) and the phonological reduction of the inflected forms of habēre eventually led to the fusion of the two elements into a single synthetic form.

In French, Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan, the conditional endings come from the imperfect of Latin habēre. For example, in the 1st person singular:

Lat. cantāre habēbam > Fr. je chanterais, Sp. cantaría, Port. cantaria, Cat. cantaria

A trace of the historical presence of two separate verbs can still be seen in the possibility of mesoclisis in conservative varieties of European Portuguese, where an object pronoun can appear between the verb stem and the conditional ending (e.g. cantá-lo-ia, see Portuguese personal pronouns and possessives). Italian had a similar form, but it also developed conditional verbs based on the perfect forms of habēre, and these are the forms that survive in modern Italian:

Lat. cantāre habuit > *cantare ebbe > It. canterebbe

Romanian uses an analytic construction for the conditional, e.g. 1sg aş cânta. (The auxiliary element may derive ultimately from Latin habēre, or it could be a reduced form of a volitional verb a vrea or a voi.)

References

  • Aski, Janice M. 1996. "Lightening the Teacher's Load: Linguistic Analysis and Language Instruction". Italica 73(4): 473-492.
  • Benveniste, E. 1968. "Mutations of linguistic categories". In Y. Malkiel and W.P. Lehmann (eds) Directions for historical linguistics, pp. 83-94. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
  • Joseph, Brian D. 1983. The synchrony and diachrony of the Balkan infinitive: a study in general, areal, and historical linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-27318-8.
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