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, could you tell me what is the formal way to indicate the same meaning like those ones?


Hello rosario70

You could say, for example: 'If I wanted to disturb you, I'd have you expelled from the club.' Note that the tenses are the same, but some informal words ('bother', 'kick out') are replaced by more formal ones ('disturb', 'expel') and a causative structure ('have you expelled') is used to make the action less direct. Both of these are typical strategies for making a statement more formal in English.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team


Could you help me?
- Ali would like to travel abroad when he grows up. (wish)
Can I say: Ali wishes he could travel abroad when he grows up.
Ali wishes he travelled abroad when he grew up.
Ali wishes he travelled abroad when he grows up.
Thank you

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I'm afraid we don't provided help with questions from elsewhere (books, tests, homework, other sites etc). We're happy to comment about the material on our own pages, of course, or on ponts of English which are problematic for our users, but we don't provide answers for tasks or exercises. We don't want to end up doing our users' homework for them, after all!

The information you need is on this page: We use past tense modals would and could to talk about wishes for the future.



The LearnEnglish Team

hello."I thought that you spoke english" or "I thought that you would speak english"?which is the correct?

Hello manuel24,

Both are grammatically correct but have different meanings. The first sentence (spoke) is about whether or not the person is able to speak English. The second sentence (would speak) assumes that the person can speak English and is about whether or not they choose to do so in a particular situation.



The LearnEnglish Team

Excuse me Peter but I'm not sure I understood everything,can you show me any example?

Hi manuel24,

For example, if you and I traveled to London and someone there started speaking to you in English and you turned to me, expecting me to respond, I could say 'I thought you spoke English'. This would indicate that I was expecting you to reply since you know English.

For the second, if we met a Swedish person in the UK and I you spoke to her in French even though you speak English better than French, I could say 'I thought you would speak in English' since I was expecting you to speak the language that you know better.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk!

I think the first one is correct