I am finding myself stumped on a particular translation, and having cited several of my native French friends (who have all had differing opinions), I have decided to take the matter here.

The sentence in question is: She was wondering whether she should go outside or stay indoors'. My initial translation for this was Elle se demandait si elle devait aller à l'extérieur ou rester à l'intérieur, but I quickly noted, upon checking this, that I didn't use the conditional devrait.

Having looked at other examples online, it appeared to me that se demandait si + imperfect translates into a conditional in English, but I have yet to find a rule for this (and it could simply be something that has happened in the language over time).

Could anyone clarify?

  • I'm not sure if this is the propoer case but there is a saying : "Les si n'aiment pas les rait." So, comming from this, I'd say : "Elle se demandait si elle devait [...]" I can't look for the complete rule right now.
    – MakorDal
    Jan 17, 2020 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


"Si" does not call conditional in French. There is a very famous incorrect sentence "Si j'aurais su", used to convey childish incorrect language.

And yet, in your example, both "devait" and "devrait" would be correct, but would not have the same meaning.

The version with "devrait" is about going outside in the future. In French the conditional mode is also used as future in the past, without conditional meaning. Please note that the same applies in English: a sentence like "I hope it will rain", put in the past, will become "I hoped it would rain".

In French, here are the two possibilities, with present version and past version:

  • (present) Elle se demande si elle doit => (past) Elle se demandait si elle devait
  • (present) Elle se demande si elle devra => (past) Elle se demandait si elle devrait

I think your original sentence in English corresponds more to the first version with "devait". Not sure how to say the second one. Maybe "She was wondering whether she would need to go outside or stay indoors"...

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