Using El Condicional/El Futuro Simple to narrate past actions

We sometimes use both El Futuro Simple or El Condicional Simple to narrate actions that happened in the past. This is not used in colloquial Spanish but in written literature as a stylistic resource.

In literature these tenses are used when a more colloquial usage would be to use El Pretérito Indefinido. For example:

El niño, hambriento y sucio, continuó caminando por el camino solitario...
The boy, hungry and filthy, continued walking along the deserted path...

...y Martina se llevó una gran sorpresa al ver de nuevo a su madre.
...and Martina got a big surprise when she saw her mother again.

En el palacio, los monarcas se quedaron sentados en sus tronos durante el evento.
In the palace, the monarchs remained seated on their thrones during the event.

The examples above show the general and colloquial use with El Pretérito Indefinido.

But the above could express the same past events using El Futuro Simple or El Condicional Simple (they are interchangeable) if they were part of the narrative in a book, a newspaper, etc. 

El niño, hambriento y sucio, continuará caminando por el camino solitario...
The boy, hungry and filthy, continued walking along the deserted path...

El niño, hambriento y sucio, continuaría caminando por el camino solitario...
The boy, hungry and filthy, continued walking along the deserted path...

...y Martina se llevará una gran sorpresa al ver de nuevo a su madre.
...and Martina got a big surprise when she saw her mother again.

...y Martina se llevaría una gran sorpresa al ver de nuevo a su madre
...and Martina got a big surprise when she saw her mother again.

En el palacio, los monarcas se quedarán sentados en sus tronos durante el evento.
In the palace, the monarchs remained seated on their thrones during the event.

En el palacio, los monarcas se quedarían sentados en sus tronos durante el evento.
In the palace, the monarchs remained seated on their thrones during the event.

Have a look at this paragraph about Picasso's life to see this usage in context:

"En 1943 conoció a Françoise Gilot, con la que más tarde tendría dos hijos, Claude y Paloma. Tres años más tarde, el pintor dejará París para instalarse en Antibes, donde Picasso comenzará una época artística diferente."

The reason why some writers suddenly swap to the future or the conditional tense, is because while that specific action is considered a past action for the reader now, it is really referring to a future action in reference to that specific moment in the narrative. The author is using "tendría" (not "tuvo") because the narration is taking as a point of reference that moment in 1943 when he met Françoise Gilot, and he had not yet had any children with her at that moment. 

It is important to note that this stylistic resource is used when the past actions actually happened, not when we are talking about a hypothetical event. 

This is hypothetical:

"Si viviera en Canarias, disfrutaría de su clima todos los días."

This is a fact in the past:

"Ella disfrutaría del clima de Canarias durante toda su estancia en Tenerife."

This last example refers to a past event that really happened. 

See also Using El Presente to narrate past events

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

General colloquial use


...y Martina se llevó una gran sorpresa al ver de nuevo a su madre.
...and Martina got a big surprise when she saw her mother again.


El niño, hambriento y sucio, continuó caminando por el camino solitario...
The boy, hungry and filthy, continued walking along the deserted path...


En el palacio, los monarcas se quedaron sentados en sus tronos durante el evento.
In the palace, the monarchs remained seated on their thrones during the event.


In literature


En el palacio, los monarcas se quedarían sentados en sus tronos durante el evento.
In the palace, the monarchs remained seated on their thrones during the event.


...y Martina se llevará una gran sorpresa al ver de nuevo a su madre.
...and Martina got a big surprise when she saw her mother again.


El niño, hambriento y sucio, continuaría caminando por el camino solitario...
The boy, hungry and filthy, continued walking along the deserted path...


El niño, hambriento y sucio, continuará caminando por el camino solitario...
The boy, hungry and filthy, continued walking along the deserted path...


En el palacio, los monarcas se quedarán sentados en sus tronos durante el evento.
In the palace, the monarchs remained seated on their thrones during the event.


...y Martina se llevaría una gran sorpresa al ver de nuevo a su madre
...and Martina got a big surprise when she saw her mother again.


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