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Wishes and hypotheses

Level: intermediate

Wishes

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

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Wishes 2

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Hypotheses (things we imagine)

Expressions

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

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Hypotheses 2

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Comments

The structure: If+sub+v2+ob, sub+would have+v3+ob.
1)If I went to australia I would have seen kangaroo which Tom missed in his trip last month.
2)If I went to australia I would see kangaroo which Tom missed in his trip last month.
Are both correct?what is difference in meaning?

Hello innocentashish420,

Sentence 1 is not correct; some mixing of verb forms can work in conditionals, but in this case, 'if I went' speaks about a time in the future, whereas 'would have seen' speaks about an unreal past – the two can't be logically connected.

I'd suggest you read our Conditionals 1 and 2 pages – I think the explanations there will help you understand this.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear all,
I have two questions I hope you could help me to figure out.

1) How do you talk about hypotheses made in the past? Do you still use the structure of second conditional and third conditional that you use to talk about hypotheses made in current time?

For example, are the following sentences correct?
"He does not know what he would say if they decided to contact him"
"He did not know what he would say if they decided to contact him."

"He thinks that his life would have been far better, if that accident had not happened to him".
"He thought that his life would have been far better, if that accident had not happened to him".

2) I found this sentence in an article of The New Yourk Times, so I guess it is correct; however it does not seem perfectly sound to me.

This is the original sentence:
"Maybe even a blanket GMO label would be OK, he thought, if it would help consumers understand that he had nothing to hide."

This is how I would have written it:
"Maybe even a blanket GMO label would be OK, he thought, if it helped consumers understand that he had nothing to hide."

Thanks in advance for your availability.

lz177

Hello lz177,

Yes, that's right, you can use the second and third conditional structures to speak about hypotheses in the past, just as in your example sentences, which are correct.

As for your second question, your alternative is certainly correct, but so is the original sentence. It's good that you spotted 'would' after 'if', as sometimes this is not correct, but in this sentence and others, for examples when 'would' is used to express a person or object's volition, it is correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir
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,
Kirk
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,
Kirk
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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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