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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




When we use
If I was and
If I were

Hello neh7272,

These two forms are commonly used in second conditionals. In such cases, 'were' can be used with all pronouns (including 'I', 'she', etc.). 'were' is the form you will find in most traditional grammars (where it's often referred to as a subjunctive form), and is generally more formal. 'was' is also correct for 'I', 'she', 'he', and 'it', however, and is used very commonly nowadays.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I've been enjoying this website for over 2 years, so first, I'd like to say thank you so much for all the time and effort that everyone puts into this site. It always helps me to improve my english skills.

I have a question :

In this example we used past tense forms to talk about wishes for the present :
These seats are very uncomfortable. I wish we were travelling first class.

If I use the past :
The seats were very uncomfortable. I wish we had travelled first class. Is it correct?

Thanks in advance and keep up the good work!

Hello Fatimaya,

First of all, thanks for telling us that you've found the site so useful – it really helps us to know that.

As for your question, if you're speaking about a wish that you had in the past, first of all, you should use a past form of 'wish', e.g. 'wished' or 'was wishing'. Then, depending on what you mean, you'd want to use the same verb form 'were travelling' (if you were on the train at the time you wished this) or you could change it a bit to say, e.g., 'had booked first class seats'. So, altogether, that would be: 'I wished we were travelling first class' or 'I wished we had booked first class seats'.

If that doesn't make sense to you, please let us know which part you don't understand.

And thanks again for your kind comment!

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

I was wondering if there might be a mistake on this page. I had been under the impression that when using wish + past tense (for present wishes), one used "were" for all forms of "be". For example, one might say "I wish I were/ he were / they were" and so on. However, this page uses "John wishes he wasn't..." Though I could be wrong, I had thought it would be "John wishes he weren't".

Is this a mistake or is my understanding incorrect?

Hello Dawn,

Many traditional grammars teach what you learned, i.e. that 'were' should be used for all forms, but the fact is many people use 'was' as well. 'were' often sounds a bit more formal, but you could hear either form in this kind of sentence.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear The LearnEnglish Team
Could you please tell me what the difference between these two questions is?

Have you ever had your head shaved?
Would you ever have your head shaved?

And I'd like to know if there is a difference between the answers to these questions?


Hello F.Hasani,

The first question is a question in the present perfect tense which asks about someone's life experience (i.e. from the past to the present time). The second one is a hypothetical question about the future, which is explained on this page. The answer to the first would probably use the past simple or present perfect and 'would' would probably be used to answer the second.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team


I'd like to ask a question concering the usage of the word "rather". I hope, this is the right place to do so.

The following sentence is from an English textbook: "I'd rather you left your dog outside - I'm allergic to animals."

This sentence sounds wrong to me, like there is a verb missing after the word "rather". Is it correct? Or is "rather" used as a verb here?

Thanks for any help or explanation!

Kind regards

Hello Daniel,

The structure here is 'would rather + bare infinitive':

I'd rather go.

I'd rather he go / I'd rather he went. [the meaning is the same for these]

There is a helpful discussion of this, and a comparison with 'would prefer' on the BBC's English language learning page - you can find it here.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team