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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




We use modals would, could for a hypothesis about the future:
We can’t all stay in a hotel. It would be very expensive.
Drive carefully. You could have an accident.
can you explain why we have used could have in the present tense as you have stated 'If the main clause is about the present we use a present tense form or a modal without have:

If I had got the job we would be living in Paris now. = I did not get the job so we are not living in Paris now.
If you had done your homework you would know the answer. = You did not do your homework so you do not know the answer.


This sentence is confusing but it does keep to the rule as stated. When we say 'a modal with have' we mean a perfect modal. That is to say [modal + have + past participle]:

could have gone

could have eaten

could have seen

could have had


A present modal is followed by a bare infinitive [modal + infintive without 'to']:

could go

could eat

could see

could have

As you can see, 'could have' in your sentence is not a perfect modal as there is no past participle after it. It is a present modal with an infinitive following it, but because the infinitive is the verb 'have' it looks like it is a perfect modal form. An easy mistake to make!


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

If we talk about parents behavior and we want to say that parents don't allow time to kids so that the kids can share their problems with them, which of the following do you think is right?
a) I agree that these days parents don't give their kids time (for discussion).
b) I agree that these days parents don't spend time with their kids (for discussion).

Hello Zeeshan,

Both sentences are fine, though I'd recommend saying something like 'to talk about their problems' instead of 'discussion', as 'discussion' could imply something for more formal than what you seem to be talking about.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter M
If you could let me know what clause fits the situation: A wants to be with B after death; i.e. A wishes to be in heavens with B. This is for future and something that A is not certain about, whether he'll be able to be with B or not, he only can wishes so during the life so now what is the best:
a) I wish I could be with B in heavens.
b) I hope I will be with B in heavens.
c) I wish I were with B in heavens.
d) I wish to be with B in heavens.

Hello Zeeshan,

'Hope' usually refers to something in the future or present. It describes something which is still possible. 'Wish' usually has a past or present time reference and describes a hypothetical situation. it is often used to talk about things we regret.

Since in this case you're clearly speaking about the future, sentence b) (with 'hope') is the best choice.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear mentors,
On the esteemed website on 'wish' page I read this "When we talk about present regrets, both wish and if only are followed by the past simple tense.". Rather, in a book I read this "Past tenses are used with a present or future meaning." If you can guide me please whether past tense in 'wish' clause refers to present regret only or it may refer to future meaning as well?
Secondly what is the difference between the two:
a) I wish I had a car.
b) I wish I could have a car.

Hello Zeeshan,

I suppose one could say that it refers to the future in a way, but I'd say it's more the idea of a different situation now in the present. If you want to speak about the future, you can use 'I hope' -- see my colleague Peter's response to another use below.

As for the two sentences, a) is simply about having a car whereas b) is about someone or your situation allowing you to have a car.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

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Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team