You are here

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




Hi Peter,

Thank you very much for replying to my question.
However, I'm still confused about the use of "could" in "I wish". Could you please let me know if my understanding is right?
As mentioned in the website, we can use “past tense modals would and could to talk about wishes for the future”. You also mentioned that "could" is used to express capability, which the speaker does not have right now. So in this situation, "could" is used to refer to wishes about having such ability in the future, is that right?
I'm asking this because I'm still find it difficult to decide whether a "I wish" sentence is talking about the present or the future so long as the past perfect tense is not used in it. I guess maybe in the context I'll find it easier to decide, but with a single sentence, such as "Everyone wishes they had more free time", I think it could refer to both the present and the future.


Hello Kunjie,

I don't think it's helpful to consider this without examples and context. Trying to fit a form which has multiple meanings into one rule leads only to problems. For example, this sentence could refer to the present or the future:

I wish I could go with you. [the person is leaving as I speak - it refers to the present]


I wish I could go with you. [the person is leaving next week - it refers to the future]


Modal verbs have multiple meanings and are very flexible. You need to consider concrete examples and clear contexts rather than try to impose one explanation on all uses.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

If I have a wish about the past, how do I construct the sentence?
"I wish the course was applied when I was junior"
"I wish the course was applied when I were junior"
I'm not sure which one is correct and whether the if rule should be used here or not… I'm not even sure the first verb 'was applied' is in the correct tense.

Hello AhmedGalal,

As it says above, we use the past perfect to talk about the past. I'm not sure what you mean by 'apply', but you could say, for example, 'I wish the course had been available when I was younger'.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

My friend jus told me that her father was a rash driver so he hit a dog while driving on the highway the previous night. Now, is it correct to say that "I hope everyone sitting in the car is fine"

Hello lotusflower123,

The sentence is not fully grammatical. The accident was last night and so 'sitting in the car' must refer to the past. However, if you use a participle phrase then the time reference is assumed to be the same as the rest of the sentence, meaning is would suggest you are talking about people sitting in the car now. To avoid this ambiguity you should use a past continuous form:


I hope everyone who was sitting in the car is fine.


However, a more natural way to say it would be to not use 'sit' at all:


I hope everyone (who was) in the car is fine.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish

Hello Peter M,

Please can't we reconstruct the sentence in another way like this?: Everyone sitting in the car was fine. I think the sentence is correct this way.

Hello roc1,

Yes, that would be fine as well. The problem in the original sentence, as I said, was the use of 'is' rather than 'was', which made the sentence illogical in the context given.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

If we mention future, what is correct?

I wish I had a ticket to the concert next year.
I wish I would have a ticket to the concert next year.

Hello katichka2003,

Only the first of these two sentences is correct. 'had' doesn't refer to the past but to a hypothetical, unreal situation. In other words, if you say this sentence the fact is that you don't have a ticket -- using 'had' is what expresses this. 

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team