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"Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it and persevere for what seems like an eternity before your efforts pay dividends. J’aurais mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, mais ça en valait la peine au final."

If I guess from context, this past conditional seems to mean either of the following. Is this past conditional usage frequently heard?

"J’ai peut-être mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, mais ça en valait la peine au final."

"D’accord, j’ai mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, mais ça en valait la peine au final."

"J’ai mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, certes, mais ça en valait la peine au final."

"J’ai beau avoir mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, ça en valait la peine au final."

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There is in French a notion of "futur dans le passé" (future in the past). This is a use of the conditional to convey something future from a past point of view.

1) It works for a simple futur:

Je te promets que je t'aiderai (present sentence with a future)

put in the past, it becomes:

Je t'ai promis que je t'aiderais. (notice the conditional)

2) It also works for more complex constructs. For the asked sentence, let's start with something easier:

J'ai mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, mais ça en vaut la peine. is a sentence in present tense, with a passé composé. Its meaning is rather straightforward.

J’aurai mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, mais ça en vaut la peine. is a sentence in the present tense, with a futur antérieur. It adds a nuance of "récapitulation, bilan, ironie, indignation, surprise, regret, ironie" as explained by LPH.

And finally, your sentence:

J’aurais mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, mais ça en valait la peine. is the same sentence, put in the past.

Note: To be complete, though not related to the question, if you start with my first sentence, not adding the futur antérieur nuance, and put it in the past, it becomes:

J’avais mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, mais ça en valait la peine. (with pluperfect)

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You have to use the spelling "J'aurai", no s in the end.

Here, the tense and mode are different from what you suppose them to be. You are dealing in fact with the "futur antérieur de l'indicatif"; it is used here to express a nuance ;

  • récapitulation, bilan, ironie, indignation, surprise, regret, ironie

encyclopédie libre, BDL

This turn is used frequently; none of the four sentences are proper as possible equivalent; here is a possible rephrasing;

  • Ça m'a pris malheureusement dix ans pour m'en rendre compte, mais ça en vaut la peine.

It seems that regret on the ground of the long time needed is the main idea.

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    It is a conditional, not a futur antérieur. Futur antérieur would not be J'aurais mis but J'aurai mis... – Steph Jun 16 at 8:57
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    @Steph I think you are not right; I didn't remove the s when I made the correction so as to keep the question consistent, and will make that precise now (I thought there would be no problem). If it were a conditionnal we'd have to deduce that the person did not spend ten years; however it is is clear from the four sentences that follow that the ten years were spent. In case you interpret my "you are dealing with" as applying to the tense and mood actually used, that's not correct: it means "you are dealing with a problem that calls for the "futur antérieur"". – LPH Jun 16 at 12:40
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    I think j'aurais is incorrect here, too, there's no condition in the context. It would be correct with a phrase like this: "J’aurais mis dix ans à m'en rendre compte, si ça avait pu en valoir la peine alors" (there's a condition), but since it's clearly future, there's no s. – Simon Mourier Jun 16 at 15:14
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    @Simon and @LPH : It seems you both did not read my answer... It is not a conditional to express a condition but to express a futur dans le passé (more precisely a futur antérieur dans le passé). Notice that the verb of the main clause is at a past tense (valait). – Steph Jun 16 at 18:43
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    @LPH : Well, it is not a matter of modality but a mere matter of concordance des temps. For modality, your first check of what can be expressed by futur antérieur was the right check, since it is a futur antérieur dans le passé. Other example: Je te dis que je viendrai quand le moment sera venu (présent, futur, futur antérieur) when put in the past, regularly becomes Je t'ai dit que je viendrais quand le moment serait venu (passé composé, conditionnel, conditionnel passé). Same applies here. – Steph Jun 16 at 20:15
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This is basically a mistake. The proper tense that should be used here is futur antérieur, which spells "j'aurai mis". Here it is indeed spelled as a conditionnel, which is a rather common mistake, unfortunately.

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