When to use the future vs. conditional in Spanish

When to use the future vs. conditional in Spanish

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated February 27, 2023

The future and conditional tenses in Spanish may be conjugated similarly, but they’re used in different contexts and convey different meanings. The future simple tense expresses future plans and doubts about the present. Meanwhile, the simple conditional tense expresses hypothetical or imaginary situations. 

Distinguishing future vs. conditional in Spanish is all about understanding the context. It can be tricky for Spanish language learners, so let’s get a firm understanding of when to use which tense. Then, we’ll compare future vs. conditional in Spanish with some examples.

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When to use future tense in Spanish

To talk about future plans in Spanish, we can use the future simple tense. Future simple is similar in meaning to the English formulation [“will” + verb]. In both Spanish and English, it expresses reasonably certain plans for the future. For example:

  • El próximo año me jubilaré. (Next year, I will retire.)

The future simple is also used in Spanish to express speculation or suspicions about the present. This use doesn’t have a direct translation in English. It’s similar to “might” or “probably.” For example:

  • Ella no se ha unido a la reunión. ¿Estará en tráfico? (She hasn’t joined the meeting. Might she be in traffic?)

How to conjugate the future tense in Spanish

Forming the future tense is relatively straightforward. The endings are consistent for -ar, -ir, and -er verbs. To demonstrate, here’s a comparison of the future tense conjugation for hablar (to speak), escribir (to write) and comer (to eat):

ella, élhablaráescribirácomerá

There are fewer irregular conjugations in the future simple tense, though they do exist:

Infinitive (meaning)Irregular root in future tense
querer (to want)querr-
haber (to have/be)habr-
venir (to come)vendr-
saber (to know)sabr-
tener (to have)tendr-
decir (to say)dir-

When to use the conditional in Spanish

Most of the ways the conditional tense is used in Spanish will be familiar to English speakers. It is mainly used to express hypothetical situations.

Hypothetical situations

The conditional tense in Spanish is often used to express hypothetical future situations that probably are not going to happen. 

This is similar to the second conditional in English that uses “would.” In Spanish the structure is as follows: Si + imperfecto de subjuntivo + condicional simple. Here are a pair of examples:

  • Si tuviera un bilion de dólares, compraría una isla privada. (If I had a billion dollars, I’d buy a private island).
  • Si no hiciera lluvia, iríamos a la playa. (If it weren’t raining, we would go to the beach).

How to conjugate the conditional tense in Spanish

The conditional tense is formed by adding different endings to the infinitive verb. The endings are the same across all -ar, -er, -ir verbs.

ella, élhablaríacomeríaescribiría

Note: Irregular verbs in the conditional tense are identical to irregular verbs in the future tense.

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Key differences between future vs. conditional in Spanish?

Now that we know how to use the conditional vs. future in Spanish, let’s focus on the differences. The two main differences in Spanish future vs. conditional tenses are the way in which they’re conjugated and the contexts in which they’re used.

Conditional vs. future Spanish conjugation

These distinct endings are added to the infinitive of the verb: 

ella, él-ía

Solid plan vs. hypothetical situation

The future tense is used for relatively firm future plans, while the conditional is for hypothetical future situations that are unlikely to happen.

Use the future tense for plans…Use the conditional for hypotheticals… 
Me graduaré el próximo año. (I’ll graduate next year.)Me graduaría el próximo año, si no tuviera que trabajar. (I would graduate next year, if I didn’t have to work.)
Hará compras mañana. (He’ll go shopping tomorrow.)Haría compras mañana, si la tienda estuviera abierta. (He would go shopping tomorrow if the store were open.)

Present suspicions vs. imagination

The final key difference is that the future tense can be used to speculate about the present, while the conditional is used to express imagined scenarios.

Use the future tense for present suspicions…Use the conditional for imagination… 
Alison no está en casa. Estará en la cafetería. (Alison is not at home. She might be in the cafe.)Alison estaría más contenta en la cafetería. (Alison would be happier in the cafe.)
Me llamó del hospital. ¿Estará enferma? (He called me from the hospital. Maybe he’s sick?)Estaría enferma de la comida. (He would be sick from the food.)

Choose the right tense for your context

To understand the difference between future vs. conditional in Spanish, ask yourself, “Are these real plans, or am I just imagining things?” Future tense always expresses solid plans, while conditional expresses an imagined or hypothetical future. 

The good news is that both the future and conditional tenses are easy to conjugate in Spanish. They don’t change for verbs with different endings. Luckily, irregular verbs are also exactly the same for both tenses. 

Want to talk about your future plans? Learn more Spanish grammar with Lingoda.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her tech copywriting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.


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