Let's Talk Verbs - The Conditional vs. Imperfect

Hello Friends:

As you can tell by my greeting, I’m in the very early stages of learning Portuguese. I hope to be contributing my forum posts in written Portuguese (even if badly written Portuguese!) before long.

Until then, however, I have a question about when to use the conditional of a verb versus the imperfect. I see this topic was covered by @ward.edan back in October, but the conversation is entirely in Portuguese and - hey - beginner :slight_smile:

What I’m most trying to understand is: How would I politely ask for something, say, in a restaurant or a hotel?

i.e. I would like white wine.

Would I use the Conditional, as in: Eu gostaria…

Or would I use the Imperfect, as in: Eu gostava…

I see that the conditional is not included in the verb conjugations here https://www.practiceportuguese.com/verb . But I read in “Portuguese Verbs and Essentials of Gramma” (Tyson-Ward) that the Imperfect is often used in place of the conditional in conversation. So, is the conditional seen as sort of formal and stuffy? Help! :slight_smile:

Rachel in Toronto

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Olá Rachel. It’s weird that the verb website has no conditional because it is a useful tense eg. If You are going to Portugal, then I would like to go with you.

Yes, the conditional may be more formal in asking for a cup of coffee at a restaurant, but it completely understood. The imperfect can be used as well. That’s my experience after 7 trips to Portugal.

Bom Natal,

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Hi and welcome, @rachel :slight_smile: @ward.edan’s topic is quite advanced, since he was asking about the conditional vs. the imperfect subjunctive (you don’t want to get into that right now, haha). In this case, we’re talking about the imperfect indicative.

In your examples (ordering/asking for something), you could use either one with the verb gostar, but it’s true that we often use the imperfect as an alternative to the true conditional and we still consider it polite and appropriate. The conditional risks sounding a bit stuffy, as you put it, but not to the point where it would bother anyone, so no worries at all if you end up using it anyway.

We also use the verb querer (to want) for ordering/requesting stuff, but in that case, it’s exclusively with the imperfect.

  • Eu queria um copo de água, por favor. (I’d like a glass of water, please). [conditional form would be quereria]

The conditional has a dedicated unit on Practice Portuguese. Here’s a Learning Note where it’s explained in detail: The Conditional

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