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



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Hello Could you please help me? In the following sentence, I think both choices are correct, would you explain more? - We're going to be late. I wish you (would - could) hurry. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Both are grammatically correct, but I would choose would here. Would refers to the person's willingness. The sentence is asking the person to try a bit harder to hurry.

Could refers to the person's ability. I wish you could hurry means that, for some reason, the person is unable (not just unwilling) to hurry. So, I think the would option would be the more common situation.

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team. A colleague said that both choices are correct, what do you think? If so, could you please explain? - I wish I (were - had been) rich, I wouldn't have borrowed money from others. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Yes, I agree with your colleague. The two options both make sense, but they have slightly different meanings:

  • I wish I had been rich, ... - this third conditional structure shows an imagined past situation. In the sentence, 'being rich' refers specifically to the time when I borrowed the money (i.e., 'If I had been rich at that time, ...'). It sounds like the borrowing did not happen recently.
  • I wish I were rich, ... - this second conditional structure shows an imagined (i.e. unreal) present situation, i.e. being rich now. We might use this if the borrowing happened recently.

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team. Could you please help me? Which one is correct or both? - I wish that Tom was studying Chemistry at the moment. - I wish that Tom were studying Chemistry at the moment. Thank you.
Hello Team. Is the following sentence correct using "would"? - They wish we would lend them some money. Some colleagues say that it is wrong and we must always use "could" with "I" and "we". What is correct? Thank you.

Helo Ahmed Imam,

The sentence is correct. We don't use would when we are describing our own behaviour since we are in control of our own choices. However, here the wishing is done not by 'we' but by 'they', so it is fine.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please tell me the difference between the following two sentences? 1- I wish the weather were fine today. 2- I wish the weather would be fine today. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

  • wish sth + past [wish the weather were] describes the situation at the moment; it imagines a different present
  • wish sth + would [wish the weather would] describes the future; it imagines a hoped-for future

Since we are talking about the future, the verb 'be' does not work here. You could use 'improve', however, or refer to a concrete change (I wish it would stop raining).


Note that 'wish sb would' is used when we are talking about behaviour. For example:

I wish he would stop talking!

[he talks too much; I hope this changes in the future]

Obviously, behaviour is something people have. It requires choice and involves making a decision. Thus we generally use the form with people rather than things, though we can anthropomorphise things such as cars, computers, the weather etc.



The LearnEnglish Team

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?

Hello Adamfirstttt,

In conditional sentences, we use modal verbs like would (have) in the result clause, not the condition clause; in the condition clause we use a normal verb form in whatever tense or aspect is appropriate.


In your first example, the result clause is omitted and there is only the condition clause. If you add a result clause then you could use use 'would have':

I can't believe you paid for your car in cash. What if someone stole it, what would you do then?

I can't believe you paid for your car in cash. What if someone had stolen it, what would you have done then?


In your second example, would have is used in the result clause:

Imagine you had been born a hundred years earlier. Do you think you would've been happy?



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! This is the questions that is always in my mind but nobody has answered yet. Long but don't be afraid. There is a sentence. (1) If he can be more brave, he will confess to her. If this (1) is backshifted, can it be like this? (2) It was clear that (or His brother said) (1-1)If he could be more brave, he would confess to her. The point is this; if a indicative conditionals is backshifted and as a result when the main clause has the past auxiliary, then it has the exact type of 2nd conditionals, but the first sentence before backshifted was not 2nd conditionals. If then, should I discern both meaning(indicative or hypothetical-open or closed) in terms of the context? Or is there something more than I know? The follows are as far as I know about them. In my humble opinion, I can't understand how (1) can be backshifted to (1-1) without avoiding the ambiguity between indicative and 2nd conditionals. If then, the meaning or proposition of (1) and those of (1-1) is far different, I think. In addition to that, I think the "would" in (1-1) should not be used or expressions other than "would" can be used there, for example, using simple past with no past auxiliaries(confessed), or using adverb like probably(probably confessed) ========================================================== If you had more patience, would you please check this out, too? Sentences (1) and (2) below have the form of 2nd conditional, which is unreal at the time of utterance (In this text, the time is past, which is natural in grammar and usage in my intuition). However, some instructors (who explain the paragraph below) say that though (1) and (2) have the same sentence structure, (2) is interpreted as the possible past (real), which means 'Picasso' could have gotten warmer ~ or not and the author still doesn't know the two possibilities. But, I don't, cannot buy that. But they insist that the interpretation is possible, depending on its context. What do you think of this? Moreover, I don't know why (1) is not mentioned as having the same intention like (2). (1)If creators knew when they were on their way to fashioning a masterpiece, their work would progress only forward: they would halt their idea-generation efforts as they struck gold. But in fact, they backtrack, returning to versions that they had earlier discarded as inadequate. In Beethoven’s most celebrated work, the Fifth Symphony, he scrapped the conclusion of the first movement because it felt too short, only to come back to it later. Had Beethoven been able to distinguish an extraordinary from an ordinary work, he would have accepted his composition immediately as a hit. When Picasso was painting his famous Guernica in protest of fascism, he produced 79 different drawings. Many of the images in the painting were based on his early sketches, not the later variations. (2)If Picasso could judge his creations as he produced them, he would get consistently “warmer” and use the later drawings. But in reality, it was just as common that he got “colder.”
Hi , What is difference in meaning if you say : I wish i could have that opprtunity or i wish i would have that opportunity ?

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, 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)? Thanks! Regards, Tim

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? Thanks! Regards, Tim

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

In my opinion, I think might have+ past participle must be something having possibility to happen in the past. Plus, I also ask: Are must have/mustn't have+ past participle and cannot have+past participle used to speak about something referring to opinion in the past or may be deduction and not in obligation, right?
Hello. Could you please help me? Is the following sentence correct using "could have"? - I wish I could have the stamina to go on a diet in the days to come." Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Both could have and had are grammatically possible in this sentence. I wish I could have has a similar meaning to I wish it were possible for me to have, while I wish I had is a more general statement about the speaker's character and the kind of person he or she is.



The LearnEnglish Team

Article 370 would have had to go sooner rather than later....meaning of this sentence... expain please
The machine often broke down and repair was costly....other way to write this sentence... reply ..thanks

Hello Kamil,

There are many ways to form this sentence. You'll need to give us some more guidance if you want us to help you find a particular way to say it.



The LearnEnglish Team

Ok sir, How to know whether a particular sentence is correct or incorrect....i mean any trick how native speakers form long sentences...thank you sir

Hello Kamil

Part of being a native speaker of a language is having the sense for whether a sentence is grammatical or not. There are different theories about how it is that native speakers have this ability, but in any case, it takes years of listening and reading other people use the language. I'd suggest you read and listen to English as much as you can, and, if possible, get the help of a teacher, who can speed up the process for you.

I'm afraid we don't provide that kind of support here. Our comments section is a space where users can ask questions about what's on our pages. We occasionally also answer very specific questions about language related to what's on our pages, but this is not a space for private tuition.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

I wish to look as cute as i was in my childhood .... Is that grammatically correct... Suggest other way to write this sentence..please