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How do I say What happens if... in Spanish?

Que pasa, si vaya a la playa sin mis padres?

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Your "What happens if" is equivalent to "What would happen if", or is there some difference? –  leonbloy Dec 12 '13 at 17:20

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

A shorter and popular version of this is "¿Y si ...?", which is almost a drop-in replacement for "What if ...?". Examples:

"What if I go to the beach without my parents?" -> "¿Y si voy a la playa sin mis padres?"
"What if there are no tickets left?" -> "¿Y si no quedan entradas?"
"What if the world ends today?" -> "¿Y si el mundo termina hoy?"

Anyway, all that @Carlos Eugenio Thompson said about the different conditional tenses in spanish applies, and it's great advice for "fine tuning" your "What if" sentences.

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The sentence should be:

¿Qué pasa si voy a la playa sin mis padres?

But you can also use:

¿Qué ocurre si...

¿Qué sucede si...

(Note the accent mark and the opening question mark)

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Note that there are two kinds of conditional sentences in Spanish: the indicative conditional and the subjunctive conditional:

¿Qué pasa si voy a la playa sin mis padres?

¿Qué pasaría si fuera a la playa sin mis padres?

The first one is indicative. You normally go to the beach with your parents or you are seriously considering about going.

What happens if I go... ?

If I go ..., then this happens: ...

The second one is subjunctive, and would mean an speculation. You are just imagine an scenario, rather than planing to go.

What would happen if I went... ?

If I went ..., then this would happen: ...


As for the construction. The indicative conditional will use indicative mood in both the condition (the subordinate sentence that begins with «si») and the consequent (the subordinate sentence that begins with tacit «entonces»)

For example using both present indicative:

¿Qué pasa si voy a la playa con sin padres?
Si voy a la playa sin mis padres, (entonces) me divierto mucho.

Or using future indicative in the consequent:

¿Qué pasará si voy a la playa sin mis padres?
Si voy a la playa sin mis padres, (entonces) me veré con mis amigos.

The subjunctive conditional, uses a subjunctive mood in the condition but only the past subjunctive («fuera», «fuese») or future subjunctive («fuere»), never the present subjunctive (as in «vaya»), and it uses the conditional mood in the consequent:

With past subjunctive

¿Qué pasaría si fuese a la playa sin mis padres?
Si fuese a la playa sin mis padres, me insolaría.

With future subjunctive

¿Qué pasaría si fuere a la playa sin mis padres?
Si fuere a la playa con mis padres, ellos no harían sino molestarme.


Summarizing, the difference between the indicative conditional and the subjunctive conditional is that the indicative one is questioning about things you know, and the subjunctive is about what you speculate.

Present indicative in both condition and consequent means that it is an habitual situation.
Present indicative in condition and future indicative in consequent is about planning.

Past subjunctive in condition, and conditional in consequent means simple speculation, probably leading to make a decision.
Future subjunctive in condition and conditional in consequent is just a mental exercise. No plans involved.

So, according to what you want to say:

¿Qué pasa si voy a la playa sin mis padres? - i.e. you are making a list of things that happen.

¿Qué pasará si voy a la playa sin mis padres? - i.e. you are anticipating a possible outcome.

¿Qué pasaría si fuera/fuese a la playa sin mis padres? - i.e. you are analyzing pros and cons.

¿Qué pasaría si fuere a la playa sin mis padres? - i.e. mental exercize, not actually planing to go.

(let's not complicate with composed tenses.)

Fell free to change «pasar» («pasa», «pasará», «pasaría») for «suceder» and «ocurrir».

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The answer from SysDragon is correct, but most times you can think on using these:

¿Qué sucedería si...

¿Qué ocurriría si...

due to the fact that you are not talking about a certainty but about a possibility.

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