Today I saw an advert that asked “how would your family cope?” and realised that this would be interesting to translate into French. There really isn’t, however, one way to say “How would” in French, but instead we need to use the French conditional. For this post I’ll also add a simpler sentence to each section because “to cope” is an unusual pronominal verb in French (s’en sortir), but here’s how we tackle this conundrum:
“How would” when the subject is an invertable pronoun
Firstly, the grammar: A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun, and an inversion is when you swap the word order of a pronoun and a verb. In French the invertable pronouns are (il, elle, on, ils, elles, vous, nous, and tu), so if we have one of these we can simply use an inversion.
To do this use “comment” (how) with the conditional conjugation for the verb and invert the verb and the pronoun (swap them around), as is standard for French interrogatives:
Comment survivriez-vous l’apocalypse zombie ? – How would you survive the zombie apocalypse.
Comment vous en sortiriez-vous ? – How would you cope?
“How would” when the subject is a non-invertable pronoun
It’s not really possible to invert “Je”, except for in certain phrases, so you can simply use “comment” without inverting it and raise the pitch of your voice at the end (or add a question mark in writing) to make it clear it is a question:
Comment je survivrais l’apocalypse zombie ? – How would I survive the zombie apacolypse?
Comment je m’en sortirais ? – How would I cope?
You can also use comment est-ce que, although many French people think that “est-ce que” after another interrogative adverb is inelegant:
Comment est-ce que je survivrais l’apocalypse zombie ? – How would I survive the zombie apocalypse?
Comment est-ce que je m’en sortirais ? – How would I cope?
“How would” when the subject is a noun
Obviously you could just use the same structure as the non-invertable pronoun but use a noun in place of the pronoun, but there is one different – if not slightly long winded – way to ask this question when you have a noun; simply place the noun after “comment” and follow with the inversion making a structure translating to “how, your family, would they cope”:
Comment votre famille survivraient-t-ils l’apocalypse zombie ? – How would your family survive the zombie apocalypse?
Comment votre famille s’en sortiraient-ils ?- How would your family cope?
That’s it! To ask “how would” we just use the conditional of the verb and use our standard interrogative structures.