Unit 12: More uses of SE, future and conditional tenses

12.8 The Conditional of Probability

Just as the future tense is used to indicate probability or conjecture in the present moment, so is the conditional tense used to express the same in the simple past moment. (See section 12.3) This non-systemic usage is analogous to that of the future of probability. Again, note the various possibilities of translation:

¿Dónde estaría Juan? Where could Juan be?

Where do (did) you think Juan was?

I wonder(ed) where Juan was.

¿Qué hora sería cuando se fue?  


What time could it be when he left?

What time do (did) you think it was when he left?

I wonder(ed) what time it was when he left.


  • future tense + probability = present tense meaning
  • conditional tense + probability = simple past tense meaning

Again, there exist conceivably ambiguous sentences out of context. Volverían al parque, in its conditional meaning, translates as “They would return to the park” (i.e., if they wanted to, if they had time). In the conditional of probability, the same sentences translates as “They probably returned to the park.”

Context should help you identify which of the two translations is best.


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