Categories: French Grammar

How to say “could” in French?

How to say “could” in French?

Would - Could - Should
1. Lesson 1: Would in French
2. Lesson 2: Could in French
3. Lesson 3: Should in French

1. Could: conditional of ‘can’:

I could do it: je pourrais le faire

As you can see, we use in French the conditional of “pouvoir”

 Could you help me? Pourrais-tu m’aider?
 It could be that my father…: Il se pourrait que mon père…

Exception: after ‘if’ conditional:

If I could start again: si je pouvais recommencer

After the ‘if’ or “si” conditional in French, we never use the conditional but the imperfect tense.

However when ‘if’ means ‘whether’, it is possible to have the conditional mood:
Je me demandais si tu viendrais: I was wondering if or whether you would come.

2. Could in the past: used to be able…

Last summer, I could sleep every day until 11A.M: L’été dernier, Je pouvais dormir tous les jours jusqu’à 11 heures.
She could walk at the age of 2: à deux ans, elle pouvait marcher.

Here, we use the Imperfect Tense in French of “pouvoir”

He said he could swim: il a dit qu’il savait nager (pay attention, with abilities we use to know in French)

3. Could, past conditional

Could is a modal verb and can be used as an auxiliary.

If I had gone to France, I could have learned French: si j’avais été en France, J’aurais pu apprendre le français.

As you can see here, we use the past participle of pouvoir: pu.

 You could have bought the bread: tu aurais pu acheter le pain.

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Pascal Dherve

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Pascal Dherve

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