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

Please fill in the blank.
I wish i____(ask) her to clean my room

Hello kuldeepjain,

What do you think? We're happy to help you, but we do ask that you tell us what you think. Is this phrase supposed to refer to the past? To the present of future?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I think answer should be asked, this question is from my english exam the actual question was
I wish I ___(ask) her to clean my room
A) has asked
B) ask
C)had asked
D)asked
sir I have confusion in option c and d, please reply asap.

Hello kuldeepjain,

I'd encourage you to ask your teacher about this. Both c) and d) are possible. c) indicates more clearly that the asking was in the past, though people sometimes just say d) since it's simpler. If I had to choose one answer for an exam, I'd choose c).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi!
I've been wondering if native speakers are awared of the differences between talking about wishes in the future and in the present. The difference is not that obvious in everyday English, is it?
For example, can I use "I wish I could be more efficient" to express my wishes right now.
Also, in an English textbook I noticed the following grammar tips:
'These sentences have similar meanings.
"I wish/If only I could dance as well as you" means "I would like to dance as well as you".
"I wish/If only I danced as well as you" means "I can't dance as well as you and I regret this".'
The above statements really confused me as I thought when using "could" we are expressing the ability to do something, while here it sees to be expressing "wishes".
Also as a new English teacher, I do wish that you could give me some suggestion on how to clarify the differences to NNS students. I mean shall I tell them these differences directly or let the students discover by themselves in the context. I do prefer the latter but I think students are more likely to be confused without clear instructions like I am right now.
Thank you very much in advance.

Kunjie

Hi Kunjie,

To talk about a regret in the past we use wish + past perfect:

I wish I had studied law instead of music.

 

To talk about a regret in the present we use wish + past:

I wish I lived in London. It's such an exciting city!

 

We can't really talk about wishes in the future in the same way. The equivalent would be a phrase with hope + that... will or hope + to verb:

I hope that I will see her soon.

I hope to see her soon.

 

As far as could goes, you are right: we use could to show ability. However, when talking about wishes we can talk in particular terms or in general terms. In particular terms here means that we are talking about one time - one particular performance which is either successful or not. In general terms here means that we are talking about a person's capability - in other words, their ability. Thus:

 

I wish I had danced as well as you.

This describes a particular act of dancing which was less successful than the other person's.

 

I wish I danced as well as you.

This describes a general level of dancing (just as the present simple describes generally true actions). It therefore means the same as ability - it is about what the speaker is capable of and not what they did in one paticular action. We can say the same thing with could:

I wish I could dance as well as you.

 

It is possible to think of a situation in which the general statement has a different meaning to the statement with could. For example:

I wish I danced as well as you in public.

Here we could say that the speaker can dance as well as the other person but is not performing as well for some reason (stress, for example), and the performance is not a specific one-off act but a repeated activity.

 

As far as how to explain it goes, that really goes beyond our focus here on LearnEnglish. We are a site for learners of English and we do not deal with methodological issues for teachers. We have a sister site which is aimed at teachers and that might be of interest to you. You can find it here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter,

Thank you very much for replying to my question.
However, I'm still confused about the use of "could" in "I wish". Could you please let me know if my understanding is right?
As mentioned in the website, we can use “past tense modals would and could to talk about wishes for the future”. You also mentioned that "could" is used to express capability, which the speaker does not have right now. So in this situation, "could" is used to refer to wishes about having such ability in the future, is that right?
I'm asking this because I'm still find it difficult to decide whether a "I wish" sentence is talking about the present or the future so long as the past perfect tense is not used in it. I guess maybe in the context I'll find it easier to decide, but with a single sentence, such as "Everyone wishes they had more free time", I think it could refer to both the present and the future.
Cheers!

Kunjie

Hello Kunjie,

I don't think it's helpful to consider this without examples and context. Trying to fit a form which has multiple meanings into one rule leads only to problems. For example, this sentence could refer to the present or the future:

I wish I could go with you. [the person is leaving as I speak - it refers to the present]

 

I wish I could go with you. [the person is leaving next week - it refers to the future]

 

Modal verbs have multiple meanings and are very flexible. You need to consider concrete examples and clear contexts rather than try to impose one explanation on all uses.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
If I have a wish about the past, how do I construct the sentence?
"I wish the course was applied when I was junior"
OR
"I wish the course was applied when I were junior"
I'm not sure which one is correct and whether the if rule should be used here or not… I'm not even sure the first verb 'was applied' is in the correct tense.

Hello AhmedGalal,

As it says above, we use the past perfect to talk about the past. I'm not sure what you mean by 'apply', but you could say, for example, 'I wish the course had been available when I was younger'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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