The hypothetical period (periodo ipotetico) consists of two sentences (main clause and dependant clause) which express a type of ‘hypothesis/consequence’ situation. In English, an example of hypothetical period is:
If I had more money (dependant clause), I would buy a new car (main clause).
If I get there on time (dependant clause), I’ll book a table (main clause).
In the hypothetical period in Italian, the dependant clause is introduced by SE (if), whereas the main clause is the one which could exist on its own, and expresses the consequence of an hypothesis. When forming periodo ipotetico in Italian, the order of the two sentences is not essential. You can start either with the dependant clause, or with the main clause, depending on the one you wish to emphasize.
In order to use this structure properly, it’s highly beneficial to know the following verb tenses: indicative mood (present and future tense); imperative; present and past conditional; imperfect and past perfect subjunctive.
Three types of hypothetical period
Type 1: Periodo Ipotetico Della Realtà
As you can see, in Italian it is possible to use two future tenses in the same sentence, whereas in English you would only use the future in the main clause.
Sometimes, the consequence (main clause) features a verb in the imperative:
Type 2: Periodo Ipotetico Della Possibilità
The second type of hypothetical period is used to express something that might happen, or something that’s possible, but not probable. In this case, the tenses involved are congiuntivo imperfetto (imperfect subjunctive) and condizionale presente (present conditional).
Type 3: Periodo Ipotetico Della Irrealtà
The third type of hypothetical period is used to describe something which can’t happen, because the condition refers to the past. In other words, it’s something which is no longer possible, and this is way we call it ‘unreal’ (irrealtà). The tenses involved are congiuntivo trapassato (past perfect subjunctive) and condizionale passato (past conditional).
ALTERNATIVES TO THE USE OF ‘SE’ IN THE DEPENDANT CLAUSE
You have now learnt that the dependant clause (condition) is often introduced by the word SE (if). Sometimes, other alternatives are possible:
- Avoiding the ‘se’, and starting directly with the verb:
Avessi più soldi, ti comprerei una casa.
If I had more money, I’d buy you a house.
- Using the gerund:
Ascoltando più attentamente, potremmo capire la lezione.
By listening more carefully, we could understand the lesson.
- Using the past participle:
Eseguita bene, potrebbe essere una canzone fantastica.
If it was well executed, it could be a great song.