The Wikipedia article on Spanish verbs (as of 31.01.2016) states that

The Spanish conditional, although semantically expressing the dependency of one action or proposition on another, is generally considered a tense of the indicative mood, because, syntactically, it can appear in an independent clause.

This is inconsistent with what I have learned about (non-Spanish) grammar in general - I have always considered Conditional as a mood (together with Indicative, Subjunctive and Imperative) and not as a tense.

Furthermore, the justification in the quoted Wikipedia article

because, syntactically, it can appear in an independent clause

does not sounds persuasive enough due to the fact that the Imperative also matches the same criteria - it can easily appear in an independent clause, such as

Tráeme el libro!

and still Imperative is considered a mood and not a tense.

QUESTION: What is the official classification of Conditional in Spanish (a mood or a tense) and how is it justified?

  • 2
    At school, kids are taught there are three moods: indicative, subjunctive and imperative. The conditional is a tense within the indicative mood, so I guess that's the official classification. The Spanish Royal Academy (RAE) seems to confirm that idea. Why I cannot tell. I'm looking forward to seeing what people has to say about it.
    – Yay
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 22:16
  • I agree with @Yay, that's how they teach it in school, also if you check any tense table the conditional appears as a tense of the indicative mood
    – Suriya
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 15:11
  • 1
    When I was a child, I was taught "Condicional" as an independent mood. It seems that it can be considered as both ways: dle.rae.es/?id=ABmbmug
    – jstuardo
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 16:48

2 Answers 2


It is one of the many great debates in the Spanish language, and is really a result of two quite different uses of the conjugation:

  • Iría a clase si no lloviese/lloviera.

Clearly indicates something that is not occurring, will not occur, and has not occurred. Thus, one could make a solid argument for a non-indicative mood.

On the other hand, you also have statements like this:

  • Dijo que iría a clase a las ocho.

While the event had not yet occurred at the moment that dijo occurs, it is presumed that it will happen and in fact is fully interchangeable with the definitively indicative phrase iba a ir. If it's 100% interchangeable with the indicative, it must also be indicative, the thought would go.

Still others look to the syntactical nature. Subjunctive can't be used generally without a main clause, most grammarians will point out, but the restriction isn't absolute: exhortative subjunctive is still alive and well in the form of usted and nosotros commands, and all negative commands, and also in formal Spanish. Some grammarians will argue that in reality, such constructions have an implicit indicative clause like "(quiero que) no me hables", but I'm less convinced, as in subordinate clauses proclisis is mandatory, but "hábleme" is perfectly grammatical with enclisis.

Some grammarians, on similar lines, will ague for our against conditional's status based on its ability to be used in the main clause, but others will say that in such cases, there's really just an implicit clause in the subjunctive, e.g., "yo iría (si fuese así)". But, the subjunctive is seen as being the dependent that attaches to an independent, so despite requiring an additional phrase (which would make it seem dependent/subordinate) it gets analyzed as independent.

Another analysis combines both the conditional and the future into present-y/past-y forms of a different mood: the potential because they express the capacity for doing things now or down the line and because they form etymologically from the same verbal periphrasis, just in different tenses (inf. + present of haber = future; inf. + old imperfect of haber = conditional). I personally subscribe to this view.

All of this is to say that the conditional occupies a very odd place in Spanish grammar, and defining the conditional as one thing or another will be heavily dependent on how you define a number of other parts of the Spanish language. To wit, here is how the Royal Spanish Academy introduces the conditional:

23.15a Es tradicional la polémica en torno a si el condicional (cantaría) es un tiempo del indicativo o un modo verbal. Se suele aceptar hoy la primera opción […] Aun así, es oportuno recordar que el condicional no expresa solo situaciones orientadas en relación con el momento del habla o con otro punto que se tome como eje, sino también contenidos no factuales (§ 25.1c) supeditados a situaciones hipotéticas, lo que se deduce de su orientación prospectiva. Se ha señalado que el hecho de que las oraciones formadas con este tiempo sean proposiciones supeditadas a otras impide otorgarles con nitidez un valor de verdad, más claramente incluso que a las construidas en futuro.

So while the Gramática treats it as being a part of the indicative, it also recognizes that that is not an absolute position (in other words, "let's agree to disagree, but this is the terminology we're using because we need to settle on one for a 2000 page book, and we'll point out problems with it as they come up").


It seems like it might be helpful to distinguish between conditional verbs acting like a grammatical mood/mode and semantically expressing modality (I'm using the distinction between mode and modality from Huddleston & Pullum's (2005) A Student's Introduction to English Grammar). If non-indicative grammatical moods in Spanish cannot be used as a predicate in the main or independent clause, then it makes sense to classify the conditional as a grammatical tense based on the conditional not meeting that syntactic requirement of moods.

However, we can still recognize that the conditional can express conditional modality. The semantic dimension of probability or conditionality are key functions of the conditional and those refer to (semantic) modality, even as the verb changes in Spanish in ways that parallel a tense change more than a modal change.

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