You are here

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 again Peter. You say, "Since we are talking about the future, the verb 'be' does not work here." How do we know that they are talking about the future?
Thank you.

Hello again Ahmed Imam,

To talk about the present (an imaginary, alternative present) you would use the first example [wish + past form], not [wish + would].



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I have often seen senteces like this:

In the context you provided, I would use X
But in other situations, I would say X

What is the meaning of "would" actually and how it fuctions?

Hello. Could you help me?
If all the following sentences correct, what are the differences between them?
1- Steinbeck wished people had left him alone as he hated publicity.
2- Steinbeck wished people would leave him alone as he hated publicity.
3- Steinbeck wished people left him alone as he hated publicity.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

These are interesting examples! They are all grammatically correct. There are slight differences in meaning.

  • Sentence 1 uses the past perfect, so it means that people bothered Steinbeck some time before he made this wish. It doesn't necessarily mean that people were bothering Steinbeck at the moment he made the wish.
  • Sentence 2 does mean this (i.e. people were still bothering him at the moment he made the wish).
  • Sentence 3 could mean either of those meanings. Speakers often simplify the past perfect (sentence 1) to the past simple.

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you tell me which one is correct? Why?
- If only he (could - would) speak Spanish later on.
Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Both options are grammatically correct, but the meaning is different. If only he could ... means he can't speak Spanish. If only he would ... means he is unwilling to speak Spanish (so, he may be able to speak it, but he doesn't want to).

The phrase later on generally means a short time in the future, not a long time. So, If only he would ... makes the most sense. If only he could ... doesn't really make sense because being able or unable to speak Spanish isn't likely to change within the short time that later on indicates.

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Hey! I've just seen this phrase in a tv show and I was wondering if it's correct:
"I just wish that there would have been a little bit something extra in it."
I would say "I wish it were", since it's a present hypothetical situation but I'm not sure at all.
Thank you!

Hi Lavinia,

It's a good question! You're right that I wish there were ... is correct, and this is the structure that is normally taught in grammar books. But, the structure you noticed (I wish X would have ...) is very commonly used nowadays, especially in American English. 

Is it correct? That's a slightly tricky question :) From a traditional point of view, the answer is no. So, I wouldn't recommend using it in a written exam, for example. But in casual conversation with someone, I don't think it would be regarded as a mistake.

Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

I can't believe you paid for your car in cash. What if someone ___ it?
Imagine you ___ born a hundred years earlier. Do you think you would've been happy?

Why couldn't I use 'would have' construction in this sentenses?