Wishes and hypotheses

Level: intermediate

Wishes

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

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Wishes 2

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Hypotheses (things we imagine)

Expressions

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

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Hypotheses 2

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Hello Widescreen,

We do not comment on what other sites or sources may say. Which tenses/verb forms are appropriate depends upon the meaning being expressed and the particular structure of a particular sentence, not whether or not it is a complex sentence.

Your examples are both examples of reported speech and you can find information on this topic here. Take a look at that page and I think you will find the information that you are looking for.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

"Mary is afraid she won't be able to attend your wedding next week. " Can I rewrite the above sentence in either way as follow: 1. Mary wishes she would be able to attend your wedding next week OR; Mary wishes she could attend your wedding next week. thanks

Hello Widescreen,

'Could' is the correct form here. The original sentence describes ability ('able to'), not preference, and 'would' here would suggest a preference (not wanting to go) rather than ability (not being able to go).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your explanation. But the original sentence uses future tense "won't" and for future wish we use the formula "would + bare infinity". Hence, if we rewrite" Mary wishes she would be able to...." should be correct as this is the wish in the future. Please help me clarify where my explanation went wrong. thanks

Hello Widescreen,

Using 'wish' is actually a bit complex.

1) In general, you can use 'wish' + the past simple tense to talk about situations that you see as impossible or unlikely. For example, 'I wish I lived in the mountains'. If I say this, it means that I don't think it's possible for me to live in the mountains, at least at the present moment (maybe I need more money, etc.).

2) If you want to wish about things that do seem possible, you should use 'hope' + present simple tense instead. For example, 'I hope I pass the exam'. This means I think it's possible.

3) You can use 'wish' + 'could' or 'would' to talk about something in the present that you don't like and would like to change. For example, if it's raining and you don't like that, you could say 'I wish it would stop raining'. By saying this, you suggest that you don't think your wish will happen.

By the way, you can find a bit more about this on our Wish and If only page.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I didn't understand this sentence "I sometimes wish i`d had a sister". Please, tell me is it "would" or "had" and why we use past simple.

Hello alexandra_a,

The 'd here is 'had'. It is an example of the past perfect (had + past participle) and it is 'had had' here as the past participle of 'have' is 'had'.

This sentence refers to an imaginary past: the speaker did not have a sister (real past) and is thinking about what would have been if he or she had had a sister (unreal past). It is similar to a third conditional sentence.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The LearnEnglish Team! Would I sound like a professor or simply a weird person if I used 'were' instead of 'was' after 'wish' for all persons during a conversation with the native speaker? Thank you in advance! Dima

Hello Dima,

That depends on who you're speaking with, but in general, no, I don't think so. You'd have to use more formal vocabulary, adopt a certain intonation and attitude and perhaps do other things to come across that way. Use 'were' as you wish!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, Which verbs can be used the below gap: is/can? If winter comes, ......... spring be far behind?

Hello muradpanna,

I'm afraid we don't answer questions like this which are from exercises elsewhere. If we tried to do so then we would end up doing everyone's homework for them! I can tell you that this is a very famous line from a poem by Shelley, so it should be quite easy for you to find the answer!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

When she was a young girl, she used to wish she ............. a princess. 1- were 2- was 3- had been Please which answer is correct and why?

Hello adamlynberg,

The correct answer is probably 'was'. The girl said at the time 'I wish I was a princess' but there is no need to change the tense with 'used to'.

It is possible to say 'had been', but this would suggest that the young girl's wish was about her own past, not the moment of wishes - i.e. about when she was an even younger girl.

Please note that we do not usually answer questions of this sort, which come from exercises elsewhere (homework or tests, for example). Our aim here is to help users with our own material, not to do tasks from elsewhere for them!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Mr. Peter. In fact this question confused me a lot coz more than an answer is possible. This question was on Toefl that's why I'm asking. Very grateful to you
Hi Peter, But the speaker is telling a past story ( I.e when she WAS a young girl) so for this reason should we not reverse the tense from simple past to past perfect? The young girl said"I wish I was a princess " . If we rewrite in indirect speech or telling story way should be : She wished she had been a princess". Past perfect is correct here not because it is about her wish about her own past but is because we are reporting her sentence and because of "wish" is used. Am I correct?

Hi Widescreen,

As I said in the first answer, it is possible to use 'had been' here, but it suggests a different meaning.

She used to wish she was a princess.

This is clear: the wishing is in the past and we understand that her desire at the time of wishing was to be a princess. When she made her original wish it was about the present.

She used to wish she had been a princess.

This suggests that her wish was about her past. In other words the girl (say at age 8) was thinking about her own past and regretting not being a princess when she was younger (say at age 4). When she made her original wish it was about the past.

Using 'had been' here would be misleading - unless the intention is to describe a wish that was made about the earlier past.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello chris kim,

Generally we do not say 'catch on fire'. The options are rather 'catch fire' or 'be on fire'. However, I would need to see the context to be sure which of these is most appropriate.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, Please, I am having problem decerning the difference between these two sentences: 1. I see the boy do everyday 2. I see the boy doing it everyday

Hello roc1,

The first sentence is not grammatically correct. The second sentence is fine.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello dipakrgandhi,

I have answered this question already for you on another page. Please ask questions once only and be patient if it is not answered immediately. We receive many questions every day from many users and it takes some time for us to work through them. When a user asks multiple questions we sometimes take several days to answer them all and you asked seven questions in two days, so you need to be patient.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, When I say, "I wish I could do that for you" What does it mean: I cannot do it for you but I wish I could. OR When time comes in the future, I hope I would be able to do that for you.

Hello ashgray,

It means the first thing you explain. 'wish' + a verb in a past tense can be used to refer to something unreal or hypothetical; in this case, it's something you would like to do but cannot.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

this problem has nothing to do with me ...does it mean ...i m not involved with this problem
being betrayed by friend....what does it mean? i just got betrayed or i m still getting betrayed...which one is correct

Hello maxmamun,

'being betrayed by a friend' doesn't have any specific reference to time in it. It could be it happened in the past or future, or could refer to this kind of betrayal in general.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hello i was listening bbc 6 minutes english and i found this sentence we'll find out if you chose the right move star later on in the programme. which condition is this ? when we use will and past verb

Hello ganneu,

THis looks ike a conditional form because it has 'if' in the sentence, but not all sentences with 'if' are conditionals. Here, the 'if' means 'whether or not', and the sentence is not a conditional.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

there was a time i would have hated it....does this mean i used to hate it before? please explain sir thank u

Hello maxmamun001,

That's not quite it. This sentence tells us what the reaction of the speaker would have been when he or she was younger. For example, imagine an older person watching a film for young people. They might say 'There was a time when I would have enjoyed it, but now it just bores me'.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thank you sir..but i want to know that...i would have enjoyed it...this sentence has two meanings 1. I did enjoy it 2. I i did not ( i would have enjoyed if she had sung well ... something like this) am i wright sir?

Hello maxmamun001,

The sentence refers to an imaginary (not real) past. If a person says 'I would have enjoyed it if...' they are telling us that in reality they did not enjoy it (which is not the same as hated it), and what change would have been necessary for them to enjoy it then.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

sir didnt understand my question...my question is.....i would have enjoyed it now it just bores me...does it mean there was a time i really enjoyed it?

Hello maxmamun001,

As I said, we use 'would have' to talk about an unreal past. If we say 'I would have enjoyed it' then we mean that we did not enjoy it for some reason (but would have if something had been different).

If we add a time reference such as 'once' then we can use 'would have' to refer to typical behaviour: I would have enjoyed it once, but not any more. However, the time reference is necessary ('once', 'at one time', 'when I was a child' etc).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

which one is correct....i have done this three times or i have been done this three times....i have gone for a week or i have been gone for a week....please explain sir if i wanna mention a period of time at the end of a perfect tense which one should be used

Hello maxmamun,

'three times' is correct in the way you used it and so is 'for a week'. The difference between each pair of sentences is in the verb, not the time phrase. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

sir, Please explain the difference between following two sentences- I used to think how things would have been with you. I used to think how things would be with you.

Hello neh7272,

Note that neither of these sentences is expressing a wish or hypothesis but rather past actions. What do you think the differences could be? In general, it's much better for your learning if you explain what you think to us; in addition, providing personalised explanations that have little to do with the page is a service we don't offer. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there, I would appreciate it if someone could help me with this question; Q1. How might you check that a student has understood the following sentence? I wish I had more free time. Q2. Indicate which function is being expressed in the following phrase? There must be campus buses still around at this hour. These are my answers to the above questions: My answer to Q1. Match the following sentence to one or more of the following sentences I wish I had more free time; a) I do not have any free time. b) I have enough free time. c) I have little free time. d) I have some free time. My answer to Q2. 'making a deduction' Thank you SFS :)

Hi StartingFromScratch,

LearnEnglish is a website for students learning the language, not teachers in training, so I'm afraid we can't help you with this! There is a companion site, TeachingEnglish, which is aimed at teachers, but we don't provide an answer service for homework or coursework tasks - these are yours to do, I'm afraid.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

The structure: If+sub+v2+ob, sub+would have+v3+ob. 1)If I went to australia I would have seen kangaroo which Tom missed in his trip last month. 2)If I went to australia I would see kangaroo which Tom missed in his trip last month. Are both correct?what is difference in meaning?

Hello innocentashish420,

Sentence 1 is not correct; some mixing of verb forms can work in conditionals, but in this case, 'if I went' speaks about a time in the future, whereas 'would have seen' speaks about an unreal past – the two can't be logically connected.

I'd suggest you read our Conditionals 1 and 2 pages – I think the explanations there will help you understand this.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear all, I have two questions I hope you could help me to figure out. 1) How do you talk about hypotheses made in the past? Do you still use the structure of second conditional and third conditional that you use to talk about hypotheses made in current time? For example, are the following sentences correct? "He does not know what he would say if they decided to contact him" "He did not know what he would say if they decided to contact him." "He thinks that his life would have been far better, if that accident had not happened to him". "He thought that his life would have been far better, if that accident had not happened to him". 2) I found this sentence in an article of The New Yourk Times, so I guess it is correct; however it does not seem perfectly sound to me. This is the original sentence: "Maybe even a blanket GMO label would be OK, he thought, if it would help consumers understand that he had nothing to hide." This is how I would have written it: "Maybe even a blanket GMO label would be OK, he thought, if it helped consumers understand that he had nothing to hide." Thanks in advance for your availability. lz177

Hello lz177,

Yes, that's right, you can use the second and third conditional structures to speak about hypotheses in the past, just as in your example sentences, which are correct.

As for your second question, your alternative is certainly correct, but so is the original sentence. It's good that you spotted 'would' after 'if', as sometimes this is not correct, but in this sentence and others, for examples when 'would' is used to express a person or object's volition, it is correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello neh7272,

These two forms are commonly used in second conditionals. In such cases, 'were' can be used with all pronouns (including 'I', 'she', etc.). 'were' is the form you will find in most traditional grammars (where it's often referred to as a subjunctive form), and is generally more formal. 'was' is also correct for 'I', 'she', 'he', and 'it', however, and is used very commonly nowadays.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I've been enjoying this website for over 2 years, so first, I'd like to say thank you so much for all the time and effort that everyone puts into this site. It always helps me to improve my english skills. I have a question : In this example we used past tense forms to talk about wishes for the present : These seats are very uncomfortable. I wish we were travelling first class. If I use the past : The seats were very uncomfortable. I wish we had travelled first class. Is it correct? Thanks in advance and keep up the good work!