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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 Dean,

The second sentence is not correct. This is because we don't generally use 'would' with the subject 'I' after 'wish', since in a sentence like this, 'would' expresses the idea of annoyance or unwillingness. In this sentence, the opportunity is not something that your willingness directly affects.

In other words, you can say something like 'I wish he would visit me' (the subject of the verb 'would visit' is 'he', not 'I' -- the idea is that you wish he was willing (wanted) to visit you) but not 'I wish I would have that opportunity'. Instead, we say 'I wish I could have' or 'I wish I had'.

I hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

This is because 'would'

Dear LearnEnglish Team,

Regarding "After I/he/she/it, we can use were instead of was," could someone explain the rationale behind this linguistic phenomenon? It seems that this doesn't comply with the principle of subject-predicate consistency, although it's widely accepted.
Further more, which of 'was' and 'were' a native speaker would prefer to use regardless the using environment (spoken and written)?
Thank you.

Hello Harry de ZHANG,

I'm not sure there is a rationale for such aspects of the language. Languages are organic and develop through use and need without an imposed plan from above.

This use of were is actually an archaic form. The subjunctive used to be the norm in if-clauses but now is used only with the verb be (present subjunctive- be, past subjunctive - were)

You can read more about the subjunctive in English here:


The use of were in if-clauses is still very common, particularly with the first-person (If I were...). The use of was is frowned upon by some people, who see it as incorrect or at best poor style. This is not a view shared by the majority of modern grammarians, however.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter,

Thank you so much for the reply! You are a big help!


My query is on the subject of grammatical moods. When talking about wishes and hypotheses, are we using the subjunctive mood?

I've read elsewhere that most grammarians consider English as only having three major/true grammatical moods (i.e. indicative, subjunctive and imperative). My larger question is this, whenever we compose any clause/sentence (to express a complete grammatical thought) in English, without even being conscious of it, are we already employing a particular grammatical mood (i.e. that our sentence, by definition, can automatically be classified as being either in indicative, subjunctive or imperative mood)?



Hi Tim,

You're correct that there are three moods in English (indicative, subjunctive and imperative) and that every verb has one of these three moods. Note that it is not the sentence which has a mood, however, but the verb; mood is a characteristic of verbs.


The subjunctive can be used in some hypothetical forms but it's actually hard to tell in many cases as the past subjunctive and the past indicative forms of the verb are identical in all but the third person in English. It's easier with present forms, and with these we can see that the present subjunctive is already archaic and is in the process of disappearing. Both of these sentences are grammatically correct, but the first sounds very old-fashioned and stilted:

If they be found, bring them to me. [be = present subjunctive]

If they are found, bring them to me. [are = present indicative]


We have similar choices with hypothetical past forms:

I wish he were here. [were = past subjunctive]

I wish he was here. [was = past indicative]



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, thanks. In other words, since every sentence in English which expresses a complete thought will contain at least one verb, this means that, without us being conscious of it, the verb (or more specifically the form the verb assumes within the sentence) will definitely belong to either the indicative, subjunctive or imperative since English only has these three moods? Is my understanding correct?



Hi Tim,

You're correct that every verb in English has one of the three moods. There are plenty of sentences without verbs, however, though a verb is often implied.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please help me? Is the sentence 1 correct using "would" in both clauses? Are both sentences correct and mean the same?
1- If only they would come next week, they would share us our journey.
2- If only they could come next week, they would share us our journey.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam

Both sentences are grammatically correct but there is a difference in meaning. In 1, 'would' means something like 'were willing to come' or 'wanted to come'. In 2, it's not that they don't want to come, it's that they cannot.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team