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




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,
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,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you.

when I was studying I have read this example:
'I wish I didn't have to work tomorrow, but unfortunately I do'
why he didn't say 'but unfortunately, I will have to work tomorrow' and is it correct to say that?
also if he says example like this: 'I wish I didn't have to (travel or leave) tomorrow, but unfortunately I will have to (travel or leave) tomorrow' is it correct too?
Thank you,

Hello Mohamed ahmed fathy,

The 'I do' in this sentence does not refer to 'work' but to 'have to'. In other words, the full sentence would be:

I wish I didn't have to work tomorrow, but unfortunately I have to work tomorrow.

It would not be wrong to say:

I wish I didn't have to work tomorrow, but unfortunately I will have to.

This is because you can see the obligation (have to) as something which you already have or something which you will have tomorrow. It's a question of the speaker's perspective.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Mr Peter

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