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Wishes and hypotheses

Level: intermediate


We use the verb wish or the phrase if only to talk about things which we want but which are not possible:

I wish I could see you next week.
If only we could stop for a drink.
I wish we had a bigger house.
They are always busy. If only they had more time.
John was very lazy at school. Now he wishes he had worked harder.

We use wish and if only with past tense forms:

  • 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. If only my parents would let me stay out later.

I don't like this place. I wish I lived somewhere more interesting.
These seats are very uncomfortable. I wish we were travelling first class.
I wish I was taller.
John wishes he wasn't so busy.
I'm freezing. If only it wasn't so cold.

  • After I/he/she/it, we can use were instead of was:

I wish I was/were taller.
John wishes he wasn't/weren't so busy.
I'm freezing. If only it wasn't/weren'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.

Wishes 1


Wishes 2


Hypotheses (things we imagine)


When we are talking about hypotheses, we use expressions like:

what if ... ? in case suppose (that) supposing (that) imagine (if/that)

We use these expressions:

We should phone them in case they are lost.
Those steps are dangerous. Suppose someone has an accident.

Imagine you won the lottery. What would you do with the money?
What if he lost his job? What would happen then?

Suppose you hadn't passed your exams. What would you have done?
What if he had lost his job? What would his wife have said?

Modal verbs

We use modals would and could for a hypothesis about the present or future:

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

We use would in the main clause and the past tense in a subordinate clause for a hypothesis about the present or 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 didn't see Mary, or I might have spoken to her.
It's a pity Jack wasn't at the party. He would have enjoyed it.
Why didn't you ask me? I could have told you the answer.

We use would have in the main clause and the past perfect in a subordinate clause to talk about something that did not happen in the past:

I would have helped anyone who had asked me.
I would have helped you if you had asked me.

Hypotheses 1


Hypotheses 2




Hello Team. Is the following sentence correct using "would"?
- They wish we would lend them some money.
Some colleagues say that it is wrong and we must always use "could" with "I" and "we". What is correct?
Thank you.

Helo Ahmed Imam,

The sentence is correct. We don't use would when we are describing our own behaviour since we are in control of our own choices. However, here the wishing is done not by 'we' but by 'they', so it is fine.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please tell me the difference between the following two sentences?
1- I wish the weather were fine today.
2- I wish the weather would be fine today.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

  • wish sth + past [wish the weather were] describes the situation at the moment; it imagines a different present
  • wish sth + would [wish the weather would] describes the future; it imagines a hoped-for future

Since we are talking about the future, the verb 'be' does not work here. You could use 'improve', however, or refer to a concrete change (I wish it would stop raining).


Note that 'wish sb would' is used when we are talking about behaviour. For example:

I wish he would stop talking!

[he talks too much; I hope this changes in the future]

Obviously, behaviour is something people have. It requires choice and involves making a decision. Thus we generally use the form with people rather than things, though we can anthropomorphise things such as cars, computers, the weather etc.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Peter. You say, "Since we are talking about the future, the verb 'be' does not work here." How do we know that they are talking about the future?
Thank you.

Hello again Ahmed Imam,

To talk about the present (an imaginary, alternative present) you would use the first example [wish + past form], not [wish + would].



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I have often seen senteces like this:

In the context you provided, I would use X
But in other situations, I would say X

What is the meaning of "would" actually and how it fuctions?

Hello. Could you help me?
If all the following sentences correct, what are the differences between them?
1- Steinbeck wished people had left him alone as he hated publicity.
2- Steinbeck wished people would leave him alone as he hated publicity.
3- Steinbeck wished people left him alone as he hated publicity.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

These are interesting examples! They are all grammatically correct. There are slight differences in meaning.

  • Sentence 1 uses the past perfect, so it means that people bothered Steinbeck some time before he made this wish. It doesn't necessarily mean that people were bothering Steinbeck at the moment he made the wish.
  • Sentence 2 does mean this (i.e. people were still bothering him at the moment he made the wish).
  • Sentence 3 could mean either of those meanings. Speakers often simplify the past perfect (sentence 1) to the past simple.

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you tell me which one is correct? Why?
- If only he (could - would) speak Spanish later on.
Thank you.