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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. 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,


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!

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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,


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,


The LearnEnglish Team

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,


The LearnEnglish Team