We use past tense forms to talk about wishes:

  • 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. I wish my parents would let me stay out later.

  •  We use past tense forms to talk about wishes for the present:

I don’t like this place. I wish I lived in somewhere more interesting.
These seats are very uncomfortable. I wish we were travelling first class.
Everyone wishes they had more free time.
John wishes he wasn’t so busy.
I wish it wasn’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.

Hypotheses (things that we imagine)

When we are talking about hypotheses:

  • We use present tense forms after phrases like what if, in case and suppose to talk about the future if we think it is likely to happen:

Those steps are dangerous. Suppose someone has an accident.
We should leave home early in case we are late.

  • We use a past tense form to talk about the future after suppose and what if to suggest something is not likely to happen:

It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost.
What if he lost his job. What would happen then?

  • We use modals would, could for a hypothesis about the future:

We can’t all stay in a hotel. It would be very expensive.
Drive carefully. You could have an accident.

  • We use would in the main clause and the past in a subordinate clause to talk about the imagined 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 did not see Mary, or I might have spoken to her.
It’s a pity Jack wasn’t at the party. He would have enjoyed this party.
Why didn’t you ask me. I could have told you the answer.






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


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.

Hello Abbasi,

'wish' is indeed a word that can be difficult to learn to use. Like many words, it has different meanings and uses, and this is part of what makes it difficult. If you look 'wish' up in the dictionary, this should help give you an idea of the different ways it is used. As you will see there, in a sentence like 'I wish to make a complaint', 'wish' basically means 'want'.

When a past tense is used after 'wish', however, the past tense doesn't refer to the past. It refers to an imaginary or unreal time. I don't know Farsi, but I do know that in other Indo-European languages, the past is used this way, so it's actually not unique to English to use the past tense in this way.

If you have any specific questions about sentences with 'wish', please feel free to ask us for more help.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team