How to Use the Spanish Conditional Tense to Express Probability or Conjecture

In this article you will learn how to use the conditional tense in Spanish (estado de animus) to express probability or conjecture. I recommend that you pay close attention because in the English language the conditional tense (mood) is not used in the same way. These are some cases:

1. When there is doubt, conjecture or probability about the future from the perspective of the past, the conditional tense is used. Normally in English you use “would” and a verb, for example, I knew they would come on time.

2. You can also use it to express a guess or guess about the past. In English, you would use must have and a verb, for example, In 1918 my grandfather would travel to Guadalajara every week. In English you can also express the same idea in different ways, for example, using could, where would the cat be? (Where could the cat be?)

3. Another use is when you speculate about events or actions that may or may not happen (that’s why some call the hypothetical future conditional), for example, it would be wonderful to travel to the moon.

Do not confuse the conditional tense with the future tense when expressing probability or conjecture. The difference is that the future tense is used to express present probability while the conditional tense expresses past probability.

Present Probability – Past Probability
It would be four in the morning – It would be four in the morning
It must have been four in the morning – It must have been four in the morning

I wonder who will it be? I wonder who would it be?
I wonder who is he/she? I wonder who he/she was?

He will be about 15 years old – He will be about 15 years old
Probably about 15 years old – Probably about 15 years old

Now that you know how to use the conditional tense in Spanish to express probability or conjecture, I recommend that you practice making up some sentences using the conditional tense to create more examples. The more you use this verb tense to express probability or guess, the more natural it will feel. As I mentioned before, in English this tense is not used in this way and that is why it may seem a bit strange at first.

In addition to creating your own example sentences, I recommend that you use the Learn Spanish Like Crazy course to speak conversational Spanish. It is available in online bookstores. I also recommend that you find a native Spanish-speaking friend with whom you can practice your Spanish.

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