From my understanding, the conditional form is a way of adding would, could, should and probably before a verb that it is conjugating. Although these 4 phrases are related, aren't they 4 different phrases? How do you know which of the 4 phrases is being used?

  • I don't understand what you are asking. What do you mean by "aren't they 4 different phrases"? Of course they are, both in English and Spanish. Or "How do you know which of the 4 phrases is being used?" Because they are different conjugations. If what you want to know is how to translate them to (or use them in) Spanish, you should ask that. If you're asking something different, please clarify your question.
    – Yay
    Feb 14, 2016 at 18:05
  • At first, I didn't either understand what he meant with these 4 phrases, so I thought it was related to the use of modals.
    – Schwale
    Feb 14, 2016 at 19:10
  • I learned in " Frequently, the conditional is used to express probability, possibility, wonder or conjecture, and is usually translated as would, could, must have or probably." Here is where: studyspanish.com/lessons/conditional.htm Feb 15, 2016 at 12:49
  • Well, that page already provides a detailed explanation for your question. If what you mean is "How do I know if a conditional tense in Spanish is expressing probability, possibility, wonder or conjecture, since them all look the same in some cases?", then context is key. "Serían las seis" can mean "It must have been 6 o' clock", "It would be 6 o'clock" or "It probably was 6 o'clock". The only way to tell is because of the context. Generally, only one option will make sense. Btw, if you want someone to be notified you answered them, you have to write @ followed by their username (e.g., @Yay)
    – Yay
    Feb 15, 2016 at 21:02

2 Answers 2


The Spanish conditional translates to "would" + verb:

  • Yo compraría esto (I would buy this). Focusing in the action itself.

"Could" and "Should", while similar, are conditionals for the verbs poder and deber, and turn them into auxiliary verbs for a periphrasis:

  • Yo podría comprar esto (I could buy this). Focusing in the ability to do the action.
  • Yo debería comprar esto (I should buy this). Focusing in the need to do the action.

"Probably" (probablemente) shouldn't give you a lot of trouble, since it's an adverb, independent of the previous cases.

  • So basically most verbs in conditional are would + verb. Conditional poder (can) is could and conditional deber (must) is should? Am I getting this correct? Feb 15, 2016 at 12:45
  • 2
    @munchschair Yes. Each would + base form indicates the conditional for a verb; could = podría, should = debería. However, be careful with the use of would + base form, because it doesn´t always construct the conditional for a verb, it can also be used for a repeated action in the past: my dad would always tell me stories = mi papá siempre me contaba historias. (NOT mi papá siempre me contaría historias.)
    – Schwale
    Feb 15, 2016 at 16:57

It depends of the conditional form.
In English, the three main conditionals use the modals you specify.

  1. First conditional
    • If you come with me, I could help you = Si vienes conmigo, podría ayudarte.
      (Note that could can be replaced either by will, might or may to increase or decrease the possibility for something to happen.)
  2. Second conditional
    • If you came with me, I would/could help you = Si vinieras/vinieses conmigo, te ayudaría / te podría ayudar.
    • If you could come with me, I would help you = Si pudieras/pudieses venir conmigo, te ayudaría.

should is different in this case, it can refer to the past tense of must, it can be used to give advice or it can be used with have to show that an action didn't take place when it should:

       » You should've come to help me! = ¡Debiste haber venido a ayudarme!

However, sentences like

This was what should happen = Esto fue lo que debería/debiese/debiera/debió pasar,

should be avoided as not being grammatically correct. (See Yay's comment below.)

  • Neither "This was what should happen" nor "Esto fue lo que debería/debiese/debiera pasar" make much sense. The correct conjugation is "This was what should have happened" and "Esto fue lo que debería haber pasado". The forms debiese/debiera instead of debería, although common in some Latin American countries, aren't grammatically correct and should be avoided. Finally, "Esto fue lo que debió pasar" or "Esto fue lo que debió de pasar" would translate to "This is what must have happened"
    – Yay
    Feb 14, 2016 at 17:43
  • I agree with your first part (and edited my answer), but the translation for This is what must have happened doesn't translate as you say since must have indicates certainty in the past. (Besides you used is = fue.)
    – Schwale
    Feb 14, 2016 at 17:58
  • Silly typo! I meant "This was what must have happened".
    – Yay
    Feb 14, 2016 at 18:03
  • "must have" is an English phrase that does not mean what the two words mean separately. It's a conjecture about something that happened based on something other than direct observation. Feb 15, 2016 at 13:30
  • @Walter And so it is in Spanish.
    – Yay
    Feb 15, 2016 at 20:49

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