“Si” is a small French word of many meanings.
French people use it a lot, for totally unrelated sentences. It can be easy to feel confused!
How can you use the word “Si” in French? And what does it really mean?
What rules does it follow, and in which sentences can it crop up?
Let’s dive in with these explanations and examples!
Learning goals: This is what you’ll be able to do after watching this lesson
- Beginner: Use “Si” to say “Yes”
- Intermediate: Use “Si” to say “If”
- Advanced: Use “Si” to say “So much”
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1) “Si” = If
In most sentences, Si means “If.”
We use it in sentences made of two parts. Those two parts most often are:
- A part that starts with Si + le présent + a part with le présent
→ Si je gagne, j’achète une voiture. (= If I win, I’ll buy a car.)
- A part that starts with Si + le présent + a part with le futur
→ Si tu viens, tu seras tout seul. (= If you come, you’ll be all alone.)
- A part that starts with Si + l’imparfait + a part with le conditionnel
→ Si j’étais riche, j’achèterais une nouvelle voiture. (= If I were rich, I’d buy a new car.)
(Or “Si + le passé composé” + a part with passé composé or présent or futur.)
You can find the whole conjugation of le conditionnel présent here.
We use le conditionnel in a sentence with “Si”, or on its own for politeness (to soften an affirmation) – just like in English!
Si j’étais là, je serais heureux.
= If I were there, I’d be happy.
Je voudrais une baguette, s’il vous plaît.
= I’d like a “baguette”, please.
→ You can learn more tenses and conjugations, with step-by-step quizzes to test yourself and help you learn, with my special program “Test Your Conjugation”.
Le conditionnel is NOT just used after Si, but in the other part of the sentence as well. As the French school kids’ mnemonic goes: “Les “Si” n’aiment pas les “-rais.”” (= “Si” doesn’t like “-rais”, the endings for the conditional)
It’s also a cute mistake by a kid character in the famous French movie la Guerre des Boutons : “Si j’aurais su, j’aurais pas venu.” This catchphrase should be “Si j’avais su, je ne serais pas venu.” (= If I’d known, I wouldn’t have come), but the kid is young and innocent so he messes up French grammar.
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You can use Si (= “If”) in many everyday expressions or turns of phrases that you’ll find in English as well. For example:
- Même si (= Even if)
- Je viendrai même si je suis malade. (= I’ll come even if I’m sick.)
- Si seulement (= If only)
- Si seulement je pouvais ! (= If only I could!)
- Comme si (= As if)
- Comme si c’était une surprise ! (= As if it were a surprise!)
We also use “Si” in its contracted form (when it comes before the vowel i) in the expression s’il te plaît / s’il vous plaît (= please) !
Discover more ways to say thank you in French
Learn more common, polite French greetings
2) “Si” = Yes ! (After a negative question)
In French, we use Oui to say “yes,” most of the time. For example:
“Tu as faim ?” “Oui !” (= “Are you hungry?” “Yes I am!”)
We don’t add a verb after “Oui” … which can be confusing after a negative question.
For example, take the question: “Tu n’as pas faim ?” (= Aren’t you hungry?)
If you answer “Oui”, do you mean “Yes, I’m hungry,” or “You’re right, I’m not hungry” ? If you use “Non”, does it mean “No, I’m not hungry” or “No, you’re wrong, I’m not hungry” ? It’s not a big problem, but it can make for blurry conversations.
French language resolves that ambiguity by using another word to mean “yes” after a negative question: Si !
“Tu n’as pas faim ?” “Si !” (= “Aren’t you hungry?” “, Yes, I am hungry.”)
It’s also used to deny a negative affirmation!
“Tu n’es pas allé à l’école aujourd’hui.” “Si !”
(= “You didn’t go to school today.” “Yes, I did!”)
→ Can you think of other examples of questions where you can answer “Si !” in French? Write them in the comments below!
3) “Si” = So much
Finally, “Si” is also used to mean “So” or “So much.” For example:
Je suis si heureux de te voir ! (= I’m so happy to see you!)
It is kind of formal, though. In everyday spoken French, we’d rather use “tellement” instead. For example:
Je suis tellement heureux de te voir ! (= I’m so happy to see you!)
4) The extra mile : other uses of “Si” and “If”
Le “Si” is also a musical note in most languages. It’s part of la gamme (= the musical scale) Do Ré Mi Fa Sol La Si Do.
A French word with the same sound is la scie (= a saw.) You can make un si with une scie — a musical saw!
Finally, un if is a totally unrelated French word: it’s a tree, the common yew.
And now we’re done!
What did you learn today?
- “Si” can mean “If,” and follows some grammar rules.
- “Si” means “Yes” after a negative question or affirmation.
- “Si” also means “So much”, like “tellement.”
- “Si” is a musical note in French music.
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Allez, salut 🙂