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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 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 Ahmed Imam,

Both are possible, but 'was' is much more common.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

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