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.






I would like to ask a question regarding "as if" please?
" It was along time ago that we first met but I remember it as if it were yesterday". Is it more grammatically correct if I use " as if it had been yesterday" ? The reason being the sentence is in past tense so for something in the past we have to use past perfect after as if.


Hello Widescreen,

There is no need to change 'were' here. The remembering is now; the hypothetical present (not past) is 'were'. The speaker is talking about the present here (his current memory), not the past (the actual day), and the 'if' is part of a phrase meaning 'as though', not part of a conditional structure.

If the verb 'remember' was in the past ('remembered'), shifting the whole context into the past, then we might say 'had been'. 


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much for your explanation.

Another thing I would like to ask is on the topic of sequence of tense. I could not find any information regarding this on your site and I am interested in this because to use the tense in a simple sentence is not so difficult but I find it confusing with sentences that contain multiple clauses ( main and sub clauses). Your guidance on where to find the info would be much appreciated. thank you.

Hello Widescreen,

The use of different tenses is combination depends upon what the speaker wishes to say and the context of the utterance, not the clauses in the sentence. You can break a complex sentence into separate sentneces and the tenses will very rarely change, as the context remains the same.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

A few online materials mentioned that when the tense in the main clause is past tense, the tense in the sub clause must be in according past tense except for when the speaker is talking about something which is a universal truth or habit. But I have come across example whose sub tense does not fall within any of the mentioned above. Eg: " He SAID he WILL be ok / or : He said he IS ok. SO Iam confusing as to whether there actually any sequence between small sentences in a complex sentence. Kindly clarify this for me. Thank you.

Hello Widescreen,

We do not comment on what other sites or sources may say. Which tenses/verb forms are appropriate depends upon the meaning being expressed and the particular structure of a particular sentence, not whether or not it is a complex sentence.

Your examples are both examples of reported speech and you can find information on this topic here. Take a look at that page and I think you will find the information that you are looking for.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

"Mary is afraid she won't be able to attend your wedding next week. " Can I rewrite the above sentence in either way as follow:
1. Mary wishes she would be able to attend your wedding next week
OR; Mary wishes she could attend your wedding next week.

Hello Widescreen,

'Could' is the correct form here. The original sentence describes ability ('able to'), not preference, and 'would' here would suggest a preference (not wanting to go) rather than ability (not being able to go).


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your explanation.
But the original sentence uses future tense "won't" and for future wish we use the formula "would + bare infinity". Hence, if we rewrite" Mary wishes she would be able to...." should be correct as this is the wish in the future. Please help me clarify where my explanation went wrong. thanks

Hello Widescreen,

Using 'wish' is actually a bit complex.

1) In general, you can use 'wish' + the past simple tense to talk about situations that you see as impossible or unlikely. For example, 'I wish I lived in the mountains'. If I say this, it means that I don't think it's possible for me to live in the mountains, at least at the present moment (maybe I need more money, etc.).

2) If you want to wish about things that do seem possible, you should use 'hope' + present simple tense instead. For example, 'I hope I pass the exam'. This means I think it's possible.

3) You can use 'wish' + 'could' or 'would' to talk about something in the present that you don't like and would like to change. For example, if it's raining and you don't like that, you could say 'I wish it would stop raining'. By saying this, you suggest that you don't think your wish will happen.

By the way, you can find a bit more about this on our Wish and If only page.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team