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 BC team
I've been learning English for a long time but I find it very difficult to understand exactly the meaning of sentences in some particular situations, especially when I try to learn the subjunctive mood. For example:( It is essential that Professor Van Helsing is met at the airport.) - (It is essential that Professor Van Helsing be met at the airport.) or (She insisted that he be present.) and (She insisted that he was present.). I've read a lesson about subjunctive mood on the internet and it says that the structure " It is essential that" will be followed by a verb-bare or be. I'm still struggling with this grammar. Could you tell me what the difference of subjunctive and indicative mood is?. And what do we use Subjunctive mood for? If you can, please check the grammar of my above paraphrase. Thank you.

Hello PhanDuy,

In general, the indicative mood is used to state facts and the subjunctive mood is used for less objective, real notions such as beliefs, intentions or desires. It can indeed be difficult to learn how to use the subjunctive – most English speakers, including many teachers, are unaware that the subjunctive mood even exists, and it is formed in almost exactly the same way as the indicative mood. In any case, I would recommend that you not worry about learning it in general, but instead focus on specific cases when it's used, for example after 'it is essential'.

Actually, it's probably more common to use a phrase beginning with 'for' after 'it is essential', e.g. 'it is essential for someone to meet the professor at the airport', but there is certainly nothing wrong with saying 'it is essential that the professor be met at the airport'. In this case, the subjunctive is indeed necessary; when the page you saw indicated that the base form of the verb should be used, this base form is the subjunctive mood (even though the page doesn't specify this, that is what the present subjunctive is). Therefore, the other form (with 'is met') is not grammatically correct, though no one would have any trouble understanding it.

When you change to the past tense, the verb in the dependent clause can be either indicative or subjunctive, but there is a difference in the perspective on the meeting. 'She insisted that he be present' means that, before the meeting, she insisted that in the future moment when the meeting was going to take place, he had to be there. It views his being present as a future event, because at the time she insisted, it was still a future event.

'She insisted that he was present' looks back at the meeting from the perspective of now, that is, looks on the meeting as a past event. She was at the meeting and she saw him there; now, in the present, when I say that he wasn't there, she insists that he was there, because she saw him there.

I've tried to explain this as clearly and simply as I can, but it's a somewhat complex distinction, so if anything's not clear, please don't hesitate to ask us about it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi learning English team.

Can I use suppose and reckon interchangeably in the sentence below?
"I don't suppose I could borrow your lecture notes this weekend, could I?

Hi SPM,

We wouldn't use 'reckon' here because it has a meaning close to 'believe' or 'think' rather than 'expect'. You could use it if you are talking about what the other person thinks:

Do you reckon you could lend me your lecture notes this weekend?

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello BC Team,

please, why is "would have + past participle" used in the following examples? I believe, these sentences are not about unreal events in the past.

"Archaeologists say that, because some of these forts were so vast, they would have been dificult to defend, they must have been built for something else, ..... "
(they actually were difficult to defend I believe)

The typical ancient Greek farmer worked a relatively small patch of land; a house with perhaps two or three acres that would usually have been in his family for generations."
(they actually were in his family for generations I guess)

Just like today, people also spoke in their own localised dialect. These individuals would all have been able to understand each other, but regional differences existed, ..."
(they actually were able to understand each other I guess)
(all senteces taken from the book "The Ancient Greeks for Dummies")

I have heard, this structure is not only used for the opposite thing that actually happen (I would have seen him = I didn´t see him; They would have arrived = They didn´t arrive; etc.) but also for suppositon, conjecture, in this case the writer's or historians'. But I can´t find any information on this in grammar books (Murphy - English Grammar in use series; Swan - Practical English usage, and others). I haven´t found any information about this on the Internet either. Only on the third conditional type of sentences, which is crystal clear I guess.

Would it be ok to say "...they were difficult to defend...", "...that usually had been in his family...", "... were all able to understand each other ..."?
Can you explain this usage of "would have +PP". Is it also used in negative forms? Or do you have any tips, internet links, where I can find more info on this? Thank you very much.

Hello radovan,

Yes, you could certainly say '... they were difficult to defend ...' (etc.) instead of the forms you found in the book. This would be especially appropriate if there's evidence that these things took place.

There is a reference in Swan (629.3 'will: various uses' (3rd edition)) to using 'will' to 'express certainty or confidence about present or future situations' and 'will have' to refer to the past. Although I haven't found anything online or in my reference books on using 'would' or 'would have' in a similar way, since 'would' can be used as a past form of 'will', it does at least make sense that 'would have' could be used to express confidence about a hypothetical past.

I'm afraid I can't explain with full confidence why the writer chose a conditional versus a past simple structure - but I imagine they did so to emphasise that they were imagining how things must have been. Perhaps if they were referring to a specific event for which they had specific evidence, they'd have used a past simple form, but since here they are talking about a general situation (which has been proven by means of inductive reasoning based on specific evidence), they preferred 'would have' to show the imaginary nature of their statement. In other words, it shows that they are imagining how things must have been according to their understanding. As you say, it shows a supposition.

I hope this helps you make sense of it!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

thanks a lot. Yes, your comment is very helpful. I hope it helps others, too.

Another thought:

Is the future perfect possible in those examples then?
"...they will have been difficult to defend ....", "...will usually have been in his family...", "...will all have been able to..." ??

And if the future perfect is possible, is there any difference in the degree of certainty between "will have been difficult to defend" vs. "would have been difficult to defend" etc.?

Hello again Radovan,

It would sound a bit strange (to me, at least) to use this form to refer to events that took place millenia ago; I'd choose 'would have' over 'will have'.

To be honest, I'm not completely sure why this is, but I suppose it's because 'would have' better suggests events that are so remote from our current experience. It's almost as if they are imaginary, even if we know they occurred.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team 

Hi Kirk,
here is another "terrible" construct I have come across in a book I am reading. Two police officers (Banks and Blackstone) are disscussing the murder of another police officer (Bill Quinn).

Blackstone thought for a moment. "Well, if access was as easy as you say, anyone could have done it, though it would have had to have been someone who knew Bill was there, I suppose, someone who knew his habbits and the lie of the land, or somehow managed to lure him to the edge of the woods...."

"It would have had to have been ......" - I can't get my head round it. It sounds terribly cumbersome. Is it the same as if I said: "It would have had to be ...."? If not, why the perfect infinitive? Any other examples?

Hello radovan1972,

We generally do not comment on sentences from other sources as they may be examples of poor English, errors, non-standard language deliberately used for a certain purpose and so on. This is especially true of fiction, where the author's intent is key, and even more so of dialogue in fiction, where the words represent the particular speech of a character in the story with all of the variables that involves (education, dialect, rhetorical aspects and so on).

'Would have had to be' suggests an opinion from the point of view of the present about a past situation. 'Would have had to have been' suggests an opinion from a point of view in the past about an action in the past. In other words, the first is the speakers view. The second is the view that the speaker would have had if he had been speculating in the past about a situation further in the past. It is rather awkward, I would say, but this is a work of fiction and so all of the caveats above apply.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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