Russian Language Grammar

    The Conditional Mood

Formation of the Conditional

In the Conditional (or Subjunctive) the particle бы is added to the past tense of any gender, number, or aspect.  Sometimes, бы is contracted to б:

Я сам написал бы ему.

I would have written to him myself.

Она с удовольствием прочитала бы эту книгу.

She would read this book with pleasure.

Это было бы хорошо.

That would be fine.

Вы могли б приехать около трёх?

Could you come around three?

In complex sentences, the particle бы is found in the main clause as well as in the subordinate:

Если я не был бы занят, я пошёл бы.

If I were not busy (subjunctive), I would go (conditional).

The particle бы usually follows the verb. However, "Если бы я не был занят, я бы пошёл" is also absolutely correct. Sometimes this particle may emphasize the subject by following it immediately:

Я бы не пошёл.

I wouldn't have gone.

Usage of the Conditional

The conditional mood may refer to the past, present or future. 

1.  Imperfective Aspect: "Если бы вы приходили к нам чаще" could refer to the past or present, i.e. "If you had visited us more often (last summer)" or:   "If you should visit us more often."

2.  Perfective Aspect: "Если бы вы пришли в среду" could refer to the past or future, i.e. "If you had come on Wednesday," or: "If you came on Wednesday." 

Meanings of the Conditional

Traditionally, the form past tense + бы is associated with the conditional mood. Yet, this form has a variety of meanings, including many where no "condition" is present. It may express:

1.   Condition proper:

Если бы вы надели пальто, вам не было бы холодно.

If you had put on a coat you wouldn't be cold.

Если я не был бы болен, я бы пошёл.

If I weren't sick I would go.

2.   Wish, desire, request, and sometimes command, after such verbs as хотеть (to want); желать (to wish); просить (to ask); настаи­вать (to insist);  смотреть (to watch, to see that).

   (a) In subordinate clauses the particle бы is incorporated in чтобы:

Он хочет, чтобы все знали это.

Не wants everybody to know it.

Она попросила меня, чтобы я пришёл рано.

She asked me to come early.

Он приказал, чтобы все собрались к восьми часам.

Не ordered everybody to gather by eight o'clock.

Смотрите, чтобы они не опоздали.

See that they aren't late.

The conditional mood, of course, may express the opposite to the above.  Then – in the negated sentences – the verb is usually in the imperfective.

Я не хочу, чтобы вы говорили про это.

I don't want you to speak about this.

Он попросил меня, чтобы я не приходил рано.

Не asked me not to come early.

   (b) In simple clauses, the verbs хотеть and желать may be used to express a wish in more polite form:

Я хотел бы стакан воды.

I would like a glass of water.

Compare:

Я хочу стакан воды.

I want a glass of water.

Notes :

Просить and приказывать may be followed by the infinitive:

Она попросила меня прийти.

She asked me to come.

Он приказал собраться к восьми.

Не ordered (us) to gather by eight.

A suggestion which includes the speaker is translated as follows:

I suggest that we go.

Я предлагаю поехать,  (lit.:  I suggest to go.)

3.   On certain occasions – an informal suggestion:

Что вы сидите дома? Пошли бы вы погулять.

Why are you sitting at home? Why don't you go out for a walk?

Вы бы отдохнули немного.

Why don't you rest for a while.

4.   Thought; doubt; opinion; fear.

Уже поздно. Я сомневаюсь, чтобы он пришёл.

It is late. I doubt that he will come.

Мы не считаем, чтобы это было трудно.

We don't consider this as difficult.

Я не думаю, чтобы она приехала сегодня.

I don't think that she will arrive today.

Боюсь, чтобы он не опоздал.

I'm afraid he might be late.

5.   Concession.  A fairly common usage of this form may be illustrated by the following examples, all of which contain the particles ни and бы.

Кто бы ни пришёл, меня нет дома.

Whoever may come, I am not at home.

Что бы вы ни решили, он это сделает по-своему.

Whatever you decide, he will do it in his own way.

Когда бы вы ни зашли, всегда будем рады вас видеть.

Whenever you can come, we'll always be glad to see you.

6.   Purpose. In complex sentences, the purpose may be expressed by чтoбы + past tense:

   (a)    When the subordinate clause has a subject different from the one in the main clause:

Я пришёл, чтобы вы рассказали мне об этом.

I came so that you would tell me about it.

   (b)    When the subordinate clause is an impersonal sentence:

Она открыла окно, чтобы не было так жарко.

She opened the window so it wouldn't be so hot.

Note:   If the two predicates refer to the same subject, the infinitive is used in the subordinate clause:

Я иду в офис, чтoбы поговорить с начальником.

I am going to the office to talk with the boss.

Я пришёл, чтобы рассказать вам об этом.

I came to tell you about it.

Condition Expressed by the Imperative Mood 

A condition contrary to fact is occasionally expressed by the familiar form of the imperative. The construction is somewhat informal and its usage is rather limited:

(Будь я) на вашем месте, я не отвечал бы на это письмо.

If I were you, I wouldn't answer this letter.

Знай я ремеслo – жил бы я в городе.   (Горький)

If I knew a trade I would have lived in the city.

Reported Speech 

The conditional mood is not used in reported speech, unless a condition is implied. In reported speech, the verb is in the same tense as in the direct statement:

DIRECT STATEMENT

REPORTED SPEECH

ENGLISH EQUIVALENT

Я приду

Я сказал, что я приду.               (will come)

I said that I would come.

Compare :

Я сказал, что я пришёл бы, если бы я знал это.

I said that I would have come if I had known this.