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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




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


In talking about wishes and hypotheses, as in "I wish I were taller" (for wish) and some of your examples quoted above as in ""We use a past tense form to talk about the future after suppose and what if to suggest something is not likely to happen, e.g. "It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost." and "What if he lost his job. What would happen then?"". In these examples, where past tense is used, are they all expressed in the subjunctive mood (expressing a condition which is doubtful or not factual)?

In addition, under the hypothesis section above, you expounded in using the simple past to talk about future unlikely scenarios. May I know if we can also express present unreal situations with the simple past? Could you kindly provide some examples for my understanding. Thanks!


Hello Tim,

Yes, that's correct -- the simple past is really a past subjunctive form here. You can read more about it in the Wikipedia entry on the English subjunctive.

The past subjunctive is used to talk about both present and future unreal situations. For example, 'I wish you were here now' or 'If I were you, I wouldn't do that'.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


The lesson says that we should use "wish" for past tense, while I see sentences like "I wish to ..." which has the sense of future time being accepted as correct sentences by teachers here.

It seems to be a paradox for non-native speaker whether they use "wish" for future tense events of not.

I don't know why English is that way.

form for first case in operating room that does not start on time?is this a correct grammar ?can anyone help me formulate it correctly?

Hello sandy09,

I'm afraid I dont' understand what you are trying to say here with 'form for first case'. The sentence is not grammatically correct but I can't guess at what it should be as I don't know your intention.

I notice that you have posted the same question multiple time. When you have a question please post it once only. Multiple posts simply mean that we must delete the extra copies, which makes the process of answering slower.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team