Wishes

We use past tense forms to talk about wishes:

  • We use past tense modals would and could to talk about wishes for the future:

I don’t like my work. I wish I could get a better job.
That’s a dreadful noise. I wish it would stop.
I always have to get home early. I wish my parents would let me stay out later.

  •  We use past tense forms to talk about wishes for the present:

I don’t like this place. I wish I lived in somewhere more interesting.
These seats are very uncomfortable. I wish we were travelling first class.
Everyone wishes they had more free time.
John wishes he wasn’t so busy.
I wish it wasn’t so cold.

  • We use the past perfect to talk about wishes for the past:

I wish I had worked harder when I was at school.
Mary wishes she had listened to what her mother told her.
I wish I hadn’t spent so much money last month.


Hypotheses (things that we imagine)

When we are talking about hypotheses:

  • We use present tense forms after phrases like what if, in case and suppose to talk about the future if we think it is likely to happen:

Those steps are dangerous. Suppose someone has an accident.
We should leave home early in case we are late.

  • We use a past tense form to talk about the future after suppose and what if to suggest something is not likely to happen:

It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost.
What if he lost his job. What would happen then?

  • We use modals would, could for a hypothesis about the future:

We can’t all stay in a hotel. It would be very expensive.
Drive carefully. You could have an accident.

  • We use would in the main clause and the past in a subordinate clause to talk about the imagined future:

I would always help someone who really needed help.
I would always help someone if they really needed it.

  • We use modals with have to talk about something that did not happen in the past:

I did not see Mary, or I might have spoken to her.
It’s a pity Jack wasn’t at the party. He would have enjoyed this party.
Why didn’t you ask me. I could have told you the answer.

 

 

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

Hello!
If we mention future, what is correct?

I wish I had a ticket to the concert next year.
Or
I wish I would have a ticket to the concert next year.

Hi,

In talking about wishes and hypotheses, as in "I wish I were taller" (for wish) and some of your examples quoted above as in ""We use a past tense form to talk about the future after suppose and what if to suggest something is not likely to happen, e.g. "It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost." and "What if he lost his job. What would happen then?"". In these examples, where past tense is used, are they all expressed in the subjunctive mood (expressing a condition which is doubtful or not factual)?

In addition, under the hypothesis section above, you expounded in using the simple past to talk about future unlikely scenarios. May I know if we can also express present unreal situations with the simple past? Could you kindly provide some examples for my understanding. Thanks!

-Tim

Hello Tim,

Yes, that's correct -- the simple past is really a past subjunctive form here. You can read more about it in the Wikipedia entry on the English subjunctive.

The past subjunctive is used to talk about both present and future unreal situations. For example, 'I wish you were here now' or 'If I were you, I wouldn't do that'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

The lesson says that we should use "wish" for past tense, while I see sentences like "I wish to ..." which has the sense of future time being accepted as correct sentences by teachers here.

It seems to be a paradox for non-native speaker whether they use "wish" for future tense events of not.

I don't know why English is that way.

Hello Abbasi,

'wish' is indeed a word that can be difficult to learn to use. Like many words, it has different meanings and uses, and this is part of what makes it difficult. If you look 'wish' up in the dictionary, this should help give you an idea of the different ways it is used. As you will see there, in a sentence like 'I wish to make a complaint', 'wish' basically means 'want'.

When a past tense is used after 'wish', however, the past tense doesn't refer to the past. It refers to an imaginary or unreal time. I don't know Farsi, but I do know that in other Indo-European languages, the past is used this way, so it's actually not unique to English to use the past tense in this way.

If you have any specific questions about sentences with 'wish', please feel free to ask us for more help.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Sir, could you tell me please, regarding wishes, why "I wish we were travelling first calss" and not i wish we travelled first class. the sentence is in present tense, so why not to use the past tense of the verb?

Hello matan,

We would say 'I wish we were travelling first class' during the journey - while we are still on the bus, tram or still in the car. The reference is not to the past but to a hypothetical present.

You can say 'I wish we travelled first class' but it would not describe a particular journey but rather a general statement about your dissatisfaction with your travelling habits.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, Could you tell me if I can use wish with present simple and future simple like this,
"I wish I go with you to the market in the evening today and, I wish you will get a better job and likewise" ?

Hello SonuKumar,

No, those sentences are not correct. The first sentence should begin either 'I wish to go...' (the meaning here is something like I hope to, with a future meaning) or 'I wish I could go...' (the meaning here is that you would like to go but cannot).

The second sentence would be best expressed by I hope you get...

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello everyone !
Below I report an example :
"John wishes he wasn’t so busy."
I often read "I, he, she, it were/were not " . that's wrong or can I use "were" for each pronoun?

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