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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Candice here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I'll answer your most common French questions.
The question for this lesson is How do I express doubt or uncertainty?
In English, we usually use modal verbs to express doubt or uncertainty. French, however, doesn’t have modal verbs. You have to use completely different constructions.
Let’s start with “might”, as in “I might go to the party.” The easiest way to do this is to simply add the adverb peut-être meaning “Maybe.” So you would get Je vais peut-être à la fête. Another way to say “might” or “may” is to use il se peut que plus the subjunctive. For example, Il se peut que la voiture soit en panne meaning “It is possible that the car is broken down” or “The car might be broken-down.”
But be careful! If you want to say something might have happened in the past, you have to use past subjunctive. So, for example, il se peut que je l’ai lu. This means “I might have read it.” or “It is possible that I’ve read it.”
Let’s move onto “could” and take the sentence “I could eat a whale.” In this case, you’re speaking about something you could do in the future. So you use the conditional of the verb “can”, which is pouvoir. And you get Je pourrais manger une baleine. But let’s say you want to talk about something you could have done in the past. In this case, you would use pouvoir in the past perfect. For example, J’aurais pu manger une baleine meaning “I could have eaten a whale.”֕֕
Now let’s look at “would”. You probably already know this form in the present tense. For example, Je voudrais le croque-monsieur. “I would like the croque-monsieur”. This is the conditional present. You may also remember it from a previous lesson about “if” statements. For example, On partirait si vous étiez prêts meaning “We would leave if you were ready.” This is case two - an unlikely situation that could come true if something else happened first. If you want to say that you would have in the past, then just conjugate the verb in the conditional perfect. For example, J’aurais voulu un croque-monsieur meaning “I would have liked a croque-monsieur.”
Finally, let’s talk about “should”. “Should” is conjugated as the conditional of the verb devoir, meaning “to have to” or “must.” Then you add the infinitive of the verb that you should have done. For example, Je devrais manger meaning “I should eat.” Or On devrait partir meaning “We should leave.” This is a very helpful construction, so make sure to memorize the conditional present tense of devoir.
For example, Vous devriez mémoriser cette forme du verbe devoir. This means “You should memorize this form of the verb devoir.” If you want to talk about something you should have done, conjugate devoir in the conditional perfect. “I should have eaten.” would be J’aurais dû manger. “We should have left.” would be On aurait dû partir. “You should have memorized it.” would be Vous auriez dû le mémoriser.
Pretty neat, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A bientôt, see you soon!