Today we will learn how to use Italian if clauses. Since Italian belongs to the Romance or Neolatin family of languages, it features quite a complex verbal system. Therefore, unlike other languages, we can know who the verb’s action doer is, in what tense the action is being done, and in which mode without resorting to placing an express subject in the sentence.
Conditional verbs are included within the indicative mode, but it’s one of the verbs that more often engage with the subjunctive. Both are used to build some types of periodo ipotetico (this is, a period in which conjectures can be stated). Curiously, the further into the past tense the verb is conjugated, the greater the stated impossibility is.
In Italian conditional sentences, there are three classes of periodo ipotetico:
FIRST TYPE: REALITY/FEASIBILITY
This period implies a fact or event is bound to come true (or not) by means of a condition we generally place through using se (the Italian if).
It can be built in several ways:
1. Indicative present tense + indicative present tense
Se piove, non andiamo al mare
2. indicative present tense + future tense
Se piove, non andremo al mare
3. Future tense + future tense
Se pioverà, non andremo al mare
(Whatever the case, the translation is “If it rains, we won’t go to the beach”)
SECOND TYPE: POSSIBILITY/HYPOTHESIS
This second type of Italian conditional sentence implies that if conditions are met the event could (or could not) come true. In this case, the chances for the event’s becoming are 50/50 to the opposite, unlike the previous instance, in which it is 100% yes or no.
For these if clauses in Italian, we use the subjunctive’s past tense and Italian conditional verbs (especially the simple conditional).
Subjunctive simple past tense + simple conditional
Se venissimo presto, ti aiuteremmo a fare il pranzo
(If we came soon, we would help you cook lunch)
We would state the previous if there were a real possibility of making it very quickly. In this case, there could be just ten minutes to the scheduled lunch and we haven’t even put anything on to go! Therefore, we notice circumstances that turn the event’s coming true more and more unfeasible.
THIRD TYPE: IMPOSSIBILITY
We use this kind of Italian if clauses to state impossible hypotheses. It is laid out as follows:
Subjunctive past perfect + past conditional
Se l’allenatore mi avesse fatto giocare, avremmo vinto (If the coach had let me play , we would have won).
Let us take a look at the perspective by formulating this sentence in several tenses:
Se l’allenatore mi fa giocare, vinciamo/vinceremo (If the coach lets me play, we will win).
It is a bold statement, however, based on the player’s confidence and the fact that the game has not started yet, or there are some days left before it starts, so the player stating this can undergo special training targeting further preparation for the coming and important match.
Se l’allenatore mi facesse giocare, vinceremmo (If the coach let/allowed me to play, we would win).
In this statement, the player feels he can be the turning factor in an ongoing match. But the score foretells a disaster for his team, likely being insurmountably behind in the score, and now the player is not so confident.
Se l’allenatore mi avesse fatto giocare, avremmo vinto (if the coach had let me play, we would have won).
Needless to say, the match is lost and the score can no longer be altered.
MIXED ITALIAN IF CLAUSES
Last but not least, there is also a mixed periodo ipotetico we rely on to express an event that did not take place in a previous time but, if it had, would affect the present in quite specific ways. We build it as follows:
Subjunctive present perfect + present conditional
Se mi fossi allenato di più, stasera giocherei meglio (If I had trained harder, tonight I would be playing better).
The Italian conditional verbs are some of the most complicated subjects when we learn Italian but don’t lose your spirit! It is just about keeping in mind the different types of periodi ipotetici and practicing a lot. Therefore, start going over what you have learned today right away by completing the following exercises: