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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




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


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 there
which one is true which means burn?
catch on fire or catch fire

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,


The LearnEnglish Team

You said ' ... which of these is most appropriate. ' : when can we use superlative ( most appropriate ) without ' the ' ?

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,


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,


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.
When time comes in the future, I hope I would be able to do that for you.