Looking at the French conditions from the perspective of Latin it seems to me that what is called in the French context the present unreal or 2nd conditional (si + impf., pres. conditionnel) il serait très content si vous lui écriviez "he would be very happy if you wrote to him" corresponds to the Latin future-less-vivid or should/would condition, i.e., it is essentially prospective: "he would be very happy should you write him". But what if you want an unreal condition that is truly in the (progressive) present, the kind that you can make logical inferences to the real-world situation from, e.g., "if it were raining the grass would be getting wet" (the grass is not getting wet, therefore . . . )? Does French have a way to express that?

  • In that precise case, subjonctive present is your friend. "Qu'il vienne à pleuvoir..." Voire : Qu'il pleuve... – aCOSwt Oct 26 '19 at 12:55
  • S'il pleuvait... – jperl Oct 26 '19 at 16:01
  • S'il pleuvait, le gazon serait mouillé (mais il ne pleut pas). – jperl Oct 26 '19 at 16:01
  • What would be wrong with keeping present indicative ? (What any logician would say) Si / quand il pleut, l'herbe est mouillée => Si / quand l'herbe n'est pas mouillée c'est qu'il ne pleut pas ? – aCOSwt Oct 26 '19 at 18:16
  • The present indicative looks at the same facts with a real rather than unreal modality, so there's nothing wrong with it; it just says something different: "If it rains, the grass gets/is getting wet"—an entailment, I believe. The unreal version doesn't just recast that in a different way, as a contrafactual it makes a (negative) statement about what what is (not) the case right now: "If it were raining, the grass would be wet/getting wet (the grass is not getting wet, therefore . . .)". It's the latter I was asking about, and I think jperl addressed it with his en train de + inf. suggestion. – haydnew Oct 26 '19 at 19:39

I would still use "conditionnel + imparfait".

If someone tells me it's raining and I see the grass is not wet nor is it getting wet, I would reply

S'il pleuvait, le gazon serait mouillé (le gazon n'est pas mouillé, donc il ne pleut pas)

La subordonnée n'est réalisée que dans le cas où les conditions citées précédemment sont remplies et à partir de là, on peut en déduire qu'il ne pleut pas.

Using the progressive for mouiller here doesn't sound natural to me.

It requires no change in tenses to express that it's happening right now. It's just a matter of adding "en train de". It's just that it's very unsual to write mouiller in the progressive form (le gazon serait en train d'être mouillé (par la pluie)?).

  • Although, you could say "S'il était en train de pleuvoir" if you want. – jperl Oct 26 '19 at 16:22
  • Thanks. S’il pleuvait le gazon serait mouillé seems to me more like (a) « If you were a good student you would do your homework » than like (b) « if you were a good student you would be doing your homework (i.e., right now) ». (a) leaves it open to you to reclaim your status as a good student—just get that homework done. But with (b) the case is closed: you aren’t doing your homework right now so you are not a good student. As jperl indicates, it’s something to do with verbal aspect: the progressive is needed. – haydnew Oct 26 '19 at 16:31
  • Just saw jperl’s suggestion of en train de, which I had been wondering about. Any logicians here? – haydnew Oct 26 '19 at 16:32
  • @haydnew I'm the author of both the answer and the comment :)If you were a good student you would be doing your homework -> si tu étais un bon élève, tu serais en train de faire tes devoirs. So yes, it's just a matter of adding "en train de" to mean "right now". – jperl Oct 26 '19 at 16:35


To express a rejected supposition in the continuing present, in French you use the "imparfait de l'indicatif".

  • S'il pleuvait, l'herbe commencerait à être mouillée.

A second option, which provides a more specific representation of the situation in the light of the fact that in your sentence the verb "to rain" is meant to say "begin to rain" rather than simply "to rain", is preferable, I think; the grass is getting wet only at the begining of the rain and then, rapidly, it's just wet. So, instead of translating by "pleuvoir" we use "commencer à pleuvoir".

  • S'il avait commencé à pleuvoir, l'herbe commencerait à être mouillée.


The following turn which consists in using the "imparfait du conditionnel" with an inversion is literary and not to be confused with the other two: it expresses a possibility, not a rejected supposition.

  • Pleuvrait-il, l'herbe commencerait à être mouillée.
  • Le "que" c'est pour les subordonnées. Les rares fois où on met que en début de phrase pour le subjonctif, c'est pour exprimer un souhait avec le subjonctif présent : "que ton voeu se réalise!" ou pour exprimer l'ordre ou la défense "qu'il vienne avec son passeport!". Je doute qu'il ait plu. – jperl Oct 26 '19 at 17:04
  • En aucun cas, on n'utilise le subjonctif pour exprimer une condition. – jperl Oct 26 '19 at 17:09
  • @jperl C'est bien possible, je ne trouve rien ; j'étais tellement sûr que je rien vérifié. Je vais continuer à chercher, c'est peut-être régional. – LPH Oct 26 '19 at 17:26
  • J'en doute fort. Personne, ô personne n'utiliserait une telle tournure. Pourrais-tu me dire où tu as trouvé l'exemple ? – jperl Oct 26 '19 at 17:29
  • @jperl j'ai tout simplement l'impression de l'avoir entendu beaucoup mais je ne fais pas totalement confiance à ces impressions-là. Je vais chercher un peu et si je ne trouve rien je vais mettre ça de côté ; je comprendrai peut-être plus tard d'où ça me vient. – LPH Oct 26 '19 at 17:33

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