Si Clauses in Spanish

Instructor: Elena Sacramento Lechado

Elena has a PhD in linguistics from University of La Laguna (Spain). Currently, she teaches Spanish as a foreign language and creates teaching resources.

In this lesson we will analyze all the possible types of si (if) clauses in Spanish. Si clauses are used to express a condition that needs to be met so that a result happens; in other words, if X happens, then Y happens.

The Use of Si Clauses in Spanish

Si (if) (pronunciation: see) clauses indicate possible (or impossible) situations or conditions in the present, in the future, or in the past. That is why they are also called conditionals.

For example, Amy loves cooking and is eager to try new recipes. She tells Lisa, her sister: Si termino mis deberes pronto, cocinaré algunas recetas nuevas esta tarde ('If I finish my homework soon, I will cook some new recipes this evening'). The result of the situation, cooking, will depend on the condition, that is, finishing her homework soon.

Si clauses are divided into two parts. The part including the si provides the condition; the other one presents the result. The order is irrelevant. We could either say Si tengo tiempo, haré una tortilla or Haré una tortilla si tengo tiempo ('I will make an omelette if I have the time'). The only difference is we'll add a comma to separate both clauses if the si part comes first.

Si clauses can be classified into three types that we are going to analyze in further detail.

Translation: If you want something, fight for it

Type 1: Likely Situations

We use this type of si clause when we talk about possibilities or likely situations in the present or in the future. The si part always has a verb in the present tense, and the result allows three constructions: the present, the future, or the imperative.

Si + Present, Present

We use this construction in order to talk about universal truths and situations that happen regularly or are very likely to happen:

Si calientas hielo, se derrite ('If you heat ice, it melts').

Translation: If you heat ice, it melts

Si + Present, Future

In this type of construction, we are referring to events that will take place in the future. They may become true or not; we are just guessing or planning:

Si puedo, iré contigo a hacer la compra ('If I can, I will go shopping with you').

Si + Present, Imperative

We can use the imperative for orders or requests. Remember that, in Spanish, it is quite common to use the imperative and doesn't necessarily mean we are being rude or brusque. As long as you use it with the right intonation and/or add por favor ('please'), it will be fine!

For example, Amy is about to start cooking with her sister and she might ask her to peel and dice the potatoes for the tortilla (omelette): Si quieres, pela y trocea las patatas, por favor ('If you want, peel and dice the potatoes, please').

All of these events are likely to occur, but what if Amy and her sister were so busy that they couldn't spend their evening cooking together? Let's see how to express this with the second type of si clause.

Type 2: Unlikely Situations

The second type of conditional expresses situations which are unreal or improbable at the moment. For the si part, we use the imperfect subjunctive tense to indicate an unlikely event. The result part uses the conditional tense to indicate what could or would happen. If you need a refresher on these tenses, then check out our lessons that cover using the imperfect subjunctive, forming the conditional tense, and using both tenses together

Amy asks Lisa for help, but she is very busy with her new project at work. Then, she says: Si tuviera tiempo, te ayudaría ('If I had the time, I would help you').

The pattern is always as follows:

Type 2

Si clause Result
Si + Imperfect Subjunctive conjugation Conditional conjugation
Construction: Si + verb stem + -ra/-ras/-ra/-ramos/-rais/-ran infinitive (or irregular root) + -ía/-ías/-ía/-íamos/-íais/-ían
Example: Si tuviera tiempo… cocinaría contigo
Translation: If I had time... I would cook with you

Translation: If it were sunny, I would go to the beach

Type 3: Impossible Situations

In this case, we are talking about events that weren't able to be accomplished because of an obstacle or unexpected event. Therefore, the situation could not take place; it was unrealizable.

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