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 BC team
I've been learning English for a long time but I find it very difficult to understand exactly the meaning of sentences in some particular situations, especially when I try to learn the subjunctive mood. For example:( It is essential that Professor Van Helsing is met at the airport.) - (It is essential that Professor Van Helsing be met at the airport.) or (She insisted that he be present.) and (She insisted that he was present.). I've read a lesson about subjunctive mood on the internet and it says that the structure " It is essential that" will be followed by a verb-bare or be. I'm still struggling with this grammar. Could you tell me what the difference of subjunctive and indicative mood is?. And what do we use Subjunctive mood for? If you can, please check the grammar of my above paraphrase. Thank you.

Hello PhanDuy,

In general, the indicative mood is used to state facts and the subjunctive mood is used for less objective, real notions such as beliefs, intentions or desires. It can indeed be difficult to learn how to use the subjunctive – most English speakers, including many teachers, are unaware that the subjunctive mood even exists, and it is formed in almost exactly the same way as the indicative mood. In any case, I would recommend that you not worry about learning it in general, but instead focus on specific cases when it's used, for example after 'it is essential'.

Actually, it's probably more common to use a phrase beginning with 'for' after 'it is essential', e.g. 'it is essential for someone to meet the professor at the airport', but there is certainly nothing wrong with saying 'it is essential that the professor be met at the airport'. In this case, the subjunctive is indeed necessary; when the page you saw indicated that the base form of the verb should be used, this base form is the subjunctive mood (even though the page doesn't specify this, that is what the present subjunctive is). Therefore, the other form (with 'is met') is not grammatically correct, though no one would have any trouble understanding it.

When you change to the past tense, the verb in the dependent clause can be either indicative or subjunctive, but there is a difference in the perspective on the meeting. 'She insisted that he be present' means that, before the meeting, she insisted that in the future moment when the meeting was going to take place, he had to be there. It views his being present as a future event, because at the time she insisted, it was still a future event.

'She insisted that he was present' looks back at the meeting from the perspective of now, that is, looks on the meeting as a past event. She was at the meeting and she saw him there; now, in the present, when I say that he wasn't there, she insists that he was there, because she saw him there.

I've tried to explain this as clearly and simply as I can, but it's a somewhat complex distinction, so if anything's not clear, please don't hesitate to ask us about it.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

She insisted that he was present' looks back at the meeting from the perspective of now, that is, looks on the meeting as a past event :

From your explanation it is clear that it is the reporting of some conversation, and the tense of the reporting is in past. Now ' he as present ' refers to the time earlier of the conversation , so that clause should be in past past tense. So the sentence , as per the rules of change of narration , should be :

She insisted that he had been present.

Am I correct ?


Will I get the reply to my question ?

Thank you.

Hello dipakrgandhi,

Could you please ask your question again in a new comment? When a comment is posted in reply to a comment that is older than a few weeks old, it's difficult for us to see what the original question is. I'm sorry for the inconvenience!

Also, please note that we generally answer just one comment per user per day. Peter already answered another comment of yours earlier today.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

OK! Thank you!

Hi learning English team.

Can I use suppose and reckon interchangeably in the sentence below?
"I don't suppose I could borrow your lecture notes this weekend, could I?


We wouldn't use 'reckon' here because it has a meaning close to 'believe' or 'think' rather than 'expect'. You could use it if you are talking about what the other person thinks:

Do you reckon you could lend me your lecture notes this weekend?


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello BC Team,

please, why is "would have + past participle" used in the following examples? I believe, these sentences are not about unreal events in the past.

"Archaeologists say that, because some of these forts were so vast, they would have been dificult to defend, they must have been built for something else, ..... "
(they actually were difficult to defend I believe)

The typical ancient Greek farmer worked a relatively small patch of land; a house with perhaps two or three acres that would usually have been in his family for generations."
(they actually were in his family for generations I guess)

Just like today, people also spoke in their own localised dialect. These individuals would all have been able to understand each other, but regional differences existed, ..."
(they actually were able to understand each other I guess)
(all senteces taken from the book "The Ancient Greeks for Dummies")

I have heard, this structure is not only used for the opposite thing that actually happen (I would have seen him = I didn´t see him; They would have arrived = They didn´t arrive; etc.) but also for suppositon, conjecture, in this case the writer's or historians'. But I can´t find any information on this in grammar books (Murphy - English Grammar in use series; Swan - Practical English usage, and others). I haven´t found any information about this on the Internet either. Only on the third conditional type of sentences, which is crystal clear I guess.

Would it be ok to say "...they were difficult to defend...", "...that usually had been in his family...", "... were all able to understand each other ..."?
Can you explain this usage of "would have +PP". Is it also used in negative forms? Or do you have any tips, internet links, where I can find more info on this? Thank you very much.

Hello radovan,

Yes, you could certainly say '... they were difficult to defend ...' (etc.) instead of the forms you found in the book. This would be especially appropriate if there's evidence that these things took place.

There is a reference in Swan (629.3 'will: various uses' (3rd edition)) to using 'will' to 'express certainty or confidence about present or future situations' and 'will have' to refer to the past. Although I haven't found anything online or in my reference books on using 'would' or 'would have' in a similar way, since 'would' can be used as a past form of 'will', it does at least make sense that 'would have' could be used to express confidence about a hypothetical past.

I'm afraid I can't explain with full confidence why the writer chose a conditional versus a past simple structure - but I imagine they did so to emphasise that they were imagining how things must have been. Perhaps if they were referring to a specific event for which they had specific evidence, they'd have used a past simple form, but since here they are talking about a general situation (which has been proven by means of inductive reasoning based on specific evidence), they preferred 'would have' to show the imaginary nature of their statement. In other words, it shows that they are imagining how things must have been according to their understanding. As you say, it shows a supposition.

I hope this helps you make sense of it!

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team