Spanish Hacks: The Conditional- How to Survive in Polite Society
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Spanish Hacks: The Conditional- How to Survive in Polite Society. In Costa Rica, people are polite. It is part of the culture to be accommodating and they pepper the language with niceties like please and thank you. Many times, what we believe is bad service is in fact, our own cultural fumble that caused a rift. Even after seven years of Tico living, my New Yorker self still forgets to engage in light banter before asking for goods and services. My “get-to-the-point” culture clashes deeply with the Costa Rican need to be polite.
The conditional tense can come to our rescue. Many students are certain they have experienced a different quality of service and treatment after simply starting to use the conditional.
Conditional is a particularly
simple tense to use.
What is the conditional? It’s a tense in verb conjugation, which means manipulating the verb to show time and subject. A common example of English conjugation is adding “ed” to a verb to make it past tense. Verb conjugation is definitively one of the most challenging aspects of learning Spanish. Fear of conjugation is what halts many Spanish students from progressing. For those who persist, however, conjugation will come naturally … eventually. Until it does, you should simply learn the meaning of verbs and use them in their base form. Don’t worry about sounding “cavemannish” — it is the natural first step.
Conditional is a particularly simple tense to use. It does not drop anything but simply takes the full verb and tacks on an ending. For example, the verb comer (to eat) with the ending “ia” becomes comeria (I/he/she/you would eat). Spanish has no real equivalent word for “would” instead it is an ending attached to a verb. In effect, conditional “softens” the word when you are making a request so it sounds less demanding and more polite. Instead of, “Limpie el baño” (Clean this bathroom.) you say, “¿Podria limpiar el baño, por favor?” (Would you please clean the bathroom?).
It is amazing what a difference this little change can make! Adding “ia” to gustar (to want) or encantar (to love) just makes you sound polite and sophisticated: “Me encantaria un vaso de agua.” (I would love a glass of water.) is a much better option than “Quiero agua.” (I want water.)
Conditional can be added to any request, suggestion or invitation. By softening your language to the ear of those listening, they tend to help you with a smile and gratitude. This little trick of adding “ia” to a verb is easy enough to start tomorrow! Try it when you go to the store and face the same clerk for the 100th time. Knock her flip flops off with some conditional language and see what happens. But still, don’t forget that bit of opening banter: in Costa Rica, every conversation should start with “Hello, how are you?” and then move on to your needs. Adding the conditional only sweetens the deal.
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