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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 Dawn,

Many traditional grammars teach what you learned, i.e. that 'were' should be used for all forms, but the fact is many people use 'was' as well. 'were' often sounds a bit more formal, but you could hear either form in this kind of sentence.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear The LearnEnglish Team
Could you please tell me what the difference between these two questions is?

Have you ever had your head shaved?
Would you ever have your head shaved?

And I'd like to know if there is a difference between the answers to these questions?


Hello F.Hasani,

The first question is a question in the present perfect tense which asks about someone's life experience (i.e. from the past to the present time). The second one is a hypothetical question about the future, which is explained on this page. The answer to the first would probably use the past simple or present perfect and 'would' would probably be used to answer the second.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team


I'd like to ask a question concering the usage of the word "rather". I hope, this is the right place to do so.

The following sentence is from an English textbook: "I'd rather you left your dog outside - I'm allergic to animals."

This sentence sounds wrong to me, like there is a verb missing after the word "rather". Is it correct? Or is "rather" used as a verb here?

Thanks for any help or explanation!

Kind regards

Hello Daniel,

The structure here is 'would rather + bare infinitive':

I'd rather go.

I'd rather he go / I'd rather he went. [the meaning is the same for these]

There is a helpful discussion of this, and a comparison with 'would prefer' on the BBC's English language learning page - you can find it here.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team


I realized that what we use after 'wish' is kind of like unreal conditional sentences, but in examples above I didn't see any examples with perfect modals after wish.I have seen perfect modals used in that clause after wish,however.would you please tell me the diffidence between following sentences:
1.I wish that you had come to the party last night.
2.I wish that you would have come to the party last night.

and kindly tell me for desire in the past 'wished' can be used,and how the following clause must be.
for example which of following sentences might be correct.
3.I wished you would come yesterday.
4.I wished you had come yesterday.
5.I wished you would have come yesterday.

best wishes

Hello misam,

Traditionally, sentence 2 is not considered correct. I say 'traditionally' because it's actually not uncommon to hear people speak like that; but in theory it is not correct – a past perfect form (such as in 1) is the correct form to talk about the past after 'wish'. That is what I teach my students and what I'd recommend you as well.

Sentences 3 and 4 can both be correct, depending on when the moment of wishing vis-à-vis the coming was, though they are a bit unusual. In most cases, I'd recommend using the verb 'want' to speak about a past desire, e.g. 'I wanted you to come'.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I always fail to manage my time i wish i would manage it or i wish i could manage my time through getting a new job - for future wish.
Everyone wishes they earned more money - for the present,.
I wish i had sold this even for low price - for the past ,.

ohooooo yeaeeeeeee i got it ,.. thank to concerned people,. and this is my first post from this site. Have a nice day friends.,......

Hello Ramachandran G,

Well done! I would make on correction to your examples, however. We would not say 'I wish I would...' as 'would' here. We use 'I wish someone would...' about other people as we are suggesting that they refuse to do something the way we like. Saying this about ourselves makes not sense: if we wish we would do something then we can simply do it!

For example, I can say 'I wish my boss wouldn't talk so loudly on the phone'. I am telling you that my boss does this and it is annoying.

However, I cannot logically say 'I wish I wouldn't talk so loudly on the phone'. If I wish this, then I can simply do it, not complain to myself about my own behaviour!

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

hi teachers, i have a little doubt, i noticed the following sentence in a conversation between two persons and one said: if you'd want to come we'd be happy to have you with us tonight.

i find out strange the first ' d it right? then i might say too: if i would be able to fly , i'd go to australia because the it's summer.

i hope someone helps me.