1

In conversation with my colleague, I said jokingly:

On le soupçonne d’être mêlé à une affaire très douteuse, et pour cause. Ça m’en a tout l’air.

On voudrait blanchir de l'argent qu'on ne s'y prendrait pas autrement.

{or}: On aurait voulu blanchir de l'argent qu'on ne s'y serait pas pris autrement.

I went with the present conditional, but now I wonder in hindsight how the version with the past conditional differs in meaning?

What we're talking about here is a general hypothetical condition that could apply to anyone and anytime, so is it better to stick with the present?

2

The conditionnel passé can be used to express regret, meaning it is too late now to do the refered action. Therefore,

On voudrait blanchir de l'argent qu'on ne s'y prendrait pas autrement.

refer to an action we could do today and its outcome, while :

On aurait voulu blanchir de l'argent qu'on ne s'y serait pas pris autrement.

refer to the action in the past that we cannot change.

I believe the difference between conditionnel présent and conditionnel passé is similar to the difference between past tense and present continuous in a way. For example :

I never went to the museum.

means that I don't intend to go in the future, while

I have never been to the museum.

implies I have not been yet but it is a possibility for me.

I found more information here.

Here is an exercise for you if you'd like.

  • Hi. I don't think this is about expressing regret, though it may indeed be interpreted that way in a normal past conditional. Here, even in the past conditional, the idea of "exactement / yeah, that's the way to go" is implied: "Exactement ! On aurait voulu blanchir de l'argent qu'on ne s'y serait pas pris autrement." – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 2 '17 at 17:26
  • I'm not talking about the general, basic comparison between the present conditional and the past conditional, but rather the difference perceived with this rather unique conditional construction. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Oct 2 '17 at 17:28
  • It's true that in this particular case, the sentence does not express regret. Still, in the first version you are talking about something that could be happening right now. In the second version, you are talking about something could have happened in the past, but we are past it (in a way) and cannot go back. – Emilie Picard-Cantin Oct 2 '17 at 17:47

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