Wishes and hypotheses

Level: intermediate

Wishes

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

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Wishes 2

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Hypotheses (things we imagine)

Expressions

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

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Hypotheses 2

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Submitted by kuldeepjain on Sat, 16/09/2017 - 09:58

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Please fill in the blank. I wish i____(ask) her to clean my room

Hello kuldeepjain,

What do you think? We're happy to help you, but we do ask that you tell us what you think. Is this phrase supposed to refer to the past? To the present of future?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ttmio_Kunjie on Wed, 06/09/2017 - 06:48

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Hi! I've been wondering if native speakers are awared of the differences between talking about wishes in the future and in the present. The difference is not that obvious in everyday English, is it? For example, can I use "I wish I could be more efficient" to express my wishes right now. Also, in an English textbook I noticed the following grammar tips: 'These sentences have similar meanings. "I wish/If only I could dance as well as you" means "I would like to dance as well as you". "I wish/If only I danced as well as you" means "I can't dance as well as you and I regret this".' The above statements really confused me as I thought when using "could" we are expressing the ability to do something, while here it sees to be expressing "wishes". Also as a new English teacher, I do wish that you could give me some suggestion on how to clarify the differences to NNS students. I mean shall I tell them these differences directly or let the students discover by themselves in the context. I do prefer the latter but I think students are more likely to be confused without clear instructions like I am right now. Thank you very much in advance. Kunjie

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 06/09/2017 - 07:46

In reply to by ttmio_Kunjie

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Hi Kunjie,

To talk about a regret in the past we use wish + past perfect:

I wish I had studied law instead of music.

 

To talk about a regret in the present we use wish + past:

I wish I lived in London. It's such an exciting city!

 

We can't really talk about wishes in the future in the same way. The equivalent would be a phrase with hope + that... will or hope + to verb:

I hope that I will see her soon.

I hope to see her soon.

 

As far as could goes, you are right: we use could to show ability. However, when talking about wishes we can talk in particular terms or in general terms. In particular terms here means that we are talking about one time - one particular performance which is either successful or not. In general terms here means that we are talking about a person's capability - in other words, their ability. Thus:

 

I wish I had danced as well as you.

This describes a particular act of dancing which was less successful than the other person's.

 

I wish I danced as well as you.

This describes a general level of dancing (just as the present simple describes generally true actions). It therefore means the same as ability - it is about what the speaker is capable of and not what they did in one paticular action. We can say the same thing with could:

I wish I could dance as well as you.

 

It is possible to think of a situation in which the general statement has a different meaning to the statement with could. For example:

I wish I danced as well as you in public.

Here we could say that the speaker can dance as well as the other person but is not performing as well for some reason (stress, for example), and the performance is not a specific one-off act but a repeated activity.

 

As far as how to explain it goes, that really goes beyond our focus here on LearnEnglish. We are a site for learners of English and we do not deal with methodological issues for teachers. We have a sister site which is aimed at teachers and that might be of interest to you. You can find it here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ttmio_Kunjie on Thu, 07/09/2017 - 01:54

In reply to by Peter M.

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Hi Peter, Thank you very much for replying to my question. However, I'm still confused about the use of "could" in "I wish". Could you please let me know if my understanding is right? As mentioned in the website, we can use “past tense modals would and could to talk about wishes for the future”. You also mentioned that "could" is used to express capability, which the speaker does not have right now. So in this situation, "could" is used to refer to wishes about having such ability in the future, is that right? I'm asking this because I'm still find it difficult to decide whether a "I wish" sentence is talking about the present or the future so long as the past perfect tense is not used in it. I guess maybe in the context I'll find it easier to decide, but with a single sentence, such as "Everyone wishes they had more free time", I think it could refer to both the present and the future. Cheers! Kunjie

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 07/09/2017 - 07:39

In reply to by ttmio_Kunjie

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Hello Kunjie,

I don't think it's helpful to consider this without examples and context. Trying to fit a form which has multiple meanings into one rule leads only to problems. For example, this sentence could refer to the present or the future:

I wish I could go with you. [the person is leaving as I speak - it refers to the present]

 

I wish I could go with you. [the person is leaving next week - it refers to the future]

 

Modal verbs have multiple meanings and are very flexible. You need to consider concrete examples and clear contexts rather than try to impose one explanation on all uses.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AhmedGalal on Sun, 20/08/2017 - 13:34

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Hi, If I have a wish about the past, how do I construct the sentence? "I wish the course was applied when I was junior" OR "I wish the course was applied when I were junior" I'm not sure which one is correct and whether the if rule should be used here or not… I'm not even sure the first verb 'was applied' is in the correct tense.

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 20/08/2017 - 21:19

In reply to by AhmedGalal

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Hello AhmedGalal,

As it says above, we use the past perfect to talk about the past. I'm not sure what you mean by 'apply', but you could say, for example, 'I wish the course had been available when I was younger'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lotusflower123 on Thu, 03/08/2017 - 20:20

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Hello! My friend jus told me that her father was a rash driver so he hit a dog while driving on the highway the previous night. Now, is it correct to say that "I hope everyone sitting in the car is fine"

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 04/08/2017 - 07:05

In reply to by lotusflower123

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Hello lotusflower123,

The sentence is not fully grammatical. The accident was last night and so 'sitting in the car' must refer to the past. However, if you use a participle phrase then the time reference is assumed to be the same as the rest of the sentence, meaning is would suggest you are talking about people sitting in the car now. To avoid this ambiguity you should use a past continuous form:

 

I hope everyone who was sitting in the car is fine.

 

However, a more natural way to say it would be to not use 'sit' at all:

 

I hope everyone (who was) in the car is fine.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish

Hello Peter M, Please can't we reconstruct the sentence in another way like this?: Everyone sitting in the car was fine. I think the sentence is correct this way.

Hello roc1,

Yes, that would be fine as well. The problem in the original sentence, as I said, was the use of 'is' rather than 'was', which made the sentence illogical in the context given.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by katichka2003 on Fri, 21/07/2017 - 07:35

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Hello! If we mention future, what is correct? I wish I had a ticket to the concert next year. Or I wish I would have a ticket to the concert next year.

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 22/07/2017 - 02:48

In reply to by katichka2003

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Hello katichka2003,

Only the first of these two sentences is correct. 'had' doesn't refer to the past but to a hypothetical, unreal situation. In other words, if you say this sentence the fact is that you don't have a ticket -- using 'had' is what expresses this. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Thu, 29/06/2017 - 11:29

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Hi, In talking about wishes and hypotheses, as in "I wish I were taller" (for wish) and some of your examples quoted above as in ""We use a past tense form to talk about the future after suppose and what if to suggest something is not likely to happen, e.g. "It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost." and "What if he lost his job. What would happen then?"". In these examples, where past tense is used, are they all expressed in the subjunctive mood (expressing a condition which is doubtful or not factual)? In addition, under the hypothesis section above, you expounded in using the simple past to talk about future unlikely scenarios. May I know if we can also express present unreal situations with the simple past? Could you kindly provide some examples for my understanding. Thanks! -Tim

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 02/07/2017 - 14:42

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hello Tim,

Yes, that's correct -- the simple past is really a past subjunctive form here. You can read more about it in the Wikipedia entry on the English subjunctive.

The past subjunctive is used to talk about both present and future unreal situations. For example, 'I wish you were here now' or 'If I were you, I wouldn't do that'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Abbasi on Wed, 28/06/2017 - 12:52

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Hi, The lesson says that we should use "wish" for past tense, while I see sentences like "I wish to ..." which has the sense of future time being accepted as correct sentences by teachers here. It seems to be a paradox for non-native speaker whether they use "wish" for future tense events of not. I don't know why English is that way.

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 28/06/2017 - 21:12

In reply to by Abbasi

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Hello Abbasi,

'wish' is indeed a word that can be difficult to learn to use. Like many words, it has different meanings and uses, and this is part of what makes it difficult. If you look 'wish' up in the dictionary, this should help give you an idea of the different ways it is used. As you will see there, in a sentence like 'I wish to make a complaint', 'wish' basically means 'want'.

When a past tense is used after 'wish', however, the past tense doesn't refer to the past. It refers to an imaginary or unreal time. I don't know Farsi, but I do know that in other Indo-European languages, the past is used this way, so it's actually not unique to English to use the past tense in this way.

If you have any specific questions about sentences with 'wish', please feel free to ask us for more help.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by sandy09 on Sat, 19/08/2017 - 17:28

In reply to by Abbasi

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form for first case in operating room that does not start on time?is this a correct grammar ?can anyone help me formulate it correctly?

Hello sandy09,

I'm afraid I dont' understand what you are trying to say here with 'form for first case'. The sentence is not grammatically correct but I can't guess at what it should be as I don't know your intention.

I notice that you have posted the same question multiple time. When you have a question please post it once only. Multiple posts simply mean that we must delete the extra copies, which makes the process of answering slower.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by matan on Sat, 10/06/2017 - 11:13

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Sir, could you tell me please, regarding wishes, why "I wish we were travelling first calss" and not i wish we travelled first class. the sentence is in present tense, so why not to use the past tense of the verb?

Hello matan,

We would say 'I wish we were travelling first class' during the journey - while we are still on the bus, tram or still in the car. The reference is not to the past but to a hypothetical present.

You can say 'I wish we travelled first class' but it would not describe a particular journey but rather a general statement about your dissatisfaction with your travelling habits.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SonuKumar on Sat, 03/06/2017 - 06:07

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Sir, Could you tell me if I can use wish with present simple and future simple like this, "I wish I go with you to the market in the evening today and, I wish you will get a better job and likewise" ?

Hello SonuKumar,

No, those sentences are not correct. The first sentence should begin either 'I wish to go...' (the meaning here is something like I hope to, with a future meaning) or 'I wish I could go...' (the meaning here is that you would like to go but cannot).

The second sentence would be best expressed by I hope you get...

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by giura on Thu, 11/05/2017 - 17:50

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Hello everyone ! Below I report an example : "John wishes he wasn’t so busy." I often read "I, he, she, it were/were not " . that's wrong or can I use "were" for each pronoun?

Hello giura,

Yes, you can use 'were' for all persons after 'wish'. It is the subjunctive form and used to be the only possible form, but the language changes all the time and the subjunctive is becoming less popular. It is still correct, however, and is especially preferred in formal language.

I wish I weren't...

I wish you weren't...

I wish he/she/it weren't...

I wish we weren't...

I wish they weren't...

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Goldenhorse77 on Sat, 22/04/2017 - 10:05

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Can we use wish to express the feeling of guilt? I wish I hadn't spoken to her like that. I seem to have hurt her.

Hello Goldenhorse77,

Your sentence is correct and very well-formed -- good work! We often use the word 'regret' (which is similar to 'guilt') to talk about the feeling expressed in this kind of statement.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ricardo A on Sun, 02/04/2017 - 22:26

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Hi! Instead this sentence: I always have to get home early Can i use this sentence below: I always have to come home early. Thank's in advance.

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 03/04/2017 - 07:01

In reply to by Ricardo A

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Hello Ricardo A,

'Come' has a sense of 'here' with it, and so we use 'come' when we are speaking from the place being discussed. For example:

I came home at 6.00. [I would say this if I were at home when speaking]

I went home at 6.00. [I would say this if I were not at home when speaking]

 

You could say 'get home' in any context, but you would only say 'come home' if you were actually saying it while at home.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by B.T. on Sat, 18/03/2017 - 10:51

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How can I make "I wish..." sentence from this sentence: I have never been in Italy. How should I convert it? a)I wish I have ever been in Italy. b)I wish I have been in Italy. Are they both correct or there is some other formulation. Thanks, B.T.

Hello B.T.

I'm afraid we generally do not provide help with tasks from outside of our own pages as otherwise we would end up doing our users' homework and/or tests for them.

The relevant rule on this page is as follows:

We use past tense forms to talk about wishes for the present

If you follow that rule you should be able to complete the task. Incidentally, 'been' here is the past participle of 'go' rather than 'be' and so we would say 'to Italy' rather than 'in Italy' in most contexts.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Is it a must to use past tense after 'wish'? Are the following correct? 1 I wish you live happily. 2 I wish you have a healthy life. 3 I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 30/03/2017 - 06:59

In reply to by libero

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Hello libero,

Different forms are possible after 'wish', but a verb in the present tense is not one of them. 'wish' + some kind of verb form is generally used to speak about something that we don't see as likely or possible.

If we want to wish someone something we see as possible, then we can use 'wish' + noun + noun, e.g. 'I wish you a happy life', 'I wish you health', 'I wish you a Merry Christmas'. We can also use 'hope' + (that) + verb clause. For example, 'I hope (that) you have a happy life' or 'I hope you have a healthy life'.

I hope this helps you!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by frankenstein777 on Sun, 05/03/2017 - 10:23

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Could someone tell me which sentence is correct? 1) I wish there was a house that cleans itself or 2) I wish there was a house that cleaned itself. Pls explain your answer as that would help me understand better. Thank you so much.

Hello frankenstein777,

The past simple verb ('was') in the construction 'I wish there was' indicates that we are talking about an unreal situation or thing. In this case, that unreal thing is a house that cleans itself. But since this phrase goes inside the construction 'I wish there was ...', you should also use the past simple there. Therefore the correct option is 2.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by PhanDuy on Sat, 18/02/2017 - 07:29

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Hello BC team I've been learning English for a long time but I find it very difficult to understand exactly the meaning of sentences in some particular situations, especially when I try to learn the subjunctive mood. For example:( It is essential that Professor Van Helsing is met at the airport.) - (It is essential that Professor Van Helsing be met at the airport.) or (She insisted that he be present.) and (She insisted that he was present.). I've read a lesson about subjunctive mood on the internet and it says that the structure " It is essential that" will be followed by a verb-bare or be. I'm still struggling with this grammar. Could you tell me what the difference of subjunctive and indicative mood is?. And what do we use Subjunctive mood for? If you can, please check the grammar of my above paraphrase. Thank you.

Hello PhanDuy,

In general, the indicative mood is used to state facts and the subjunctive mood is used for less objective, real notions such as beliefs, intentions or desires. It can indeed be difficult to learn how to use the subjunctive – most English speakers, including many teachers, are unaware that the subjunctive mood even exists, and it is formed in almost exactly the same way as the indicative mood. In any case, I would recommend that you not worry about learning it in general, but instead focus on specific cases when it's used, for example after 'it is essential'.

Actually, it's probably more common to use a phrase beginning with 'for' after 'it is essential', e.g. 'it is essential for someone to meet the professor at the airport', but there is certainly nothing wrong with saying 'it is essential that the professor be met at the airport'. In this case, the subjunctive is indeed necessary; when the page you saw indicated that the base form of the verb should be used, this base form is the subjunctive mood (even though the page doesn't specify this, that is what the present subjunctive is). Therefore, the other form (with 'is met') is not grammatically correct, though no one would have any trouble understanding it.

When you change to the past tense, the verb in the dependent clause can be either indicative or subjunctive, but there is a difference in the perspective on the meeting. 'She insisted that he be present' means that, before the meeting, she insisted that in the future moment when the meeting was going to take place, he had to be there. It views his being present as a future event, because at the time she insisted, it was still a future event.

'She insisted that he was present' looks back at the meeting from the perspective of now, that is, looks on the meeting as a past event. She was at the meeting and she saw him there; now, in the present, when I say that he wasn't there, she insists that he was there, because she saw him there.

I've tried to explain this as clearly and simply as I can, but it's a somewhat complex distinction, so if anything's not clear, please don't hesitate to ask us about it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SPM on Sat, 07/01/2017 - 03:19

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Hi learning English team. Can I use suppose and reckon interchangeably in the sentence below? "I don't suppose I could borrow your lecture notes this weekend, could I?

Hi SPM,

We wouldn't use 'reckon' here because it has a meaning close to 'believe' or 'think' rather than 'expect'. You could use it if you are talking about what the other person thinks:

Do you reckon you could lend me your lecture notes this weekend?

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by radovan1972 on Wed, 21/12/2016 - 15:20

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Hello BC Team, please, why is "would have + past participle" used in the following examples? I believe, these sentences are not about unreal events in the past. "Archaeologists say that, because some of these forts were so vast, they would have been dificult to defend, they must have been built for something else, ..... " (they actually were difficult to defend I believe) The typical ancient Greek farmer worked a relatively small patch of land; a house with perhaps two or three acres that would usually have been in his family for generations." (they actually were in his family for generations I guess) Just like today, people also spoke in their own localised dialect. These individuals would all have been able to understand each other, but regional differences existed, ..." (they actually were able to understand each other I guess) (all senteces taken from the book "The Ancient Greeks for Dummies") I have heard, this structure is not only used for the opposite thing that actually happen (I would have seen him = I didn´t see him; They would have arrived = They didn´t arrive; etc.) but also for suppositon, conjecture, in this case the writer's or historians'. But I can´t find any information on this in grammar books (Murphy - English Grammar in use series; Swan - Practical English usage, and others). I haven´t found any information about this on the Internet either. Only on the third conditional type of sentences, which is crystal clear I guess. Would it be ok to say "...they were difficult to defend...", "...that usually had been in his family...", "... were all able to understand each other ..."? Can you explain this usage of "would have +PP". Is it also used in negative forms? Or do you have any tips, internet links, where I can find more info on this? Thank you very much.

Hello radovan,

Yes, you could certainly say '... they were difficult to defend ...' (etc.) instead of the forms you found in the book. This would be especially appropriate if there's evidence that these things took place.

There is a reference in Swan (629.3 'will: various uses' (3rd edition)) to using 'will' to 'express certainty or confidence about present or future situations' and 'will have' to refer to the past. Although I haven't found anything online or in my reference books on using 'would' or 'would have' in a similar way, since 'would' can be used as a past form of 'will', it does at least make sense that 'would have' could be used to express confidence about a hypothetical past.

I'm afraid I can't explain with full confidence why the writer chose a conditional versus a past simple structure - but I imagine they did so to emphasise that they were imagining how things must have been. Perhaps if they were referring to a specific event for which they had specific evidence, they'd have used a past simple form, but since here they are talking about a general situation (which has been proven by means of inductive reasoning based on specific evidence), they preferred 'would have' to show the imaginary nature of their statement. In other words, it shows that they are imagining how things must have been according to their understanding. As you say, it shows a supposition.

I hope this helps you make sense of it!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mohamedfathy on Fri, 16/12/2016 - 12:12

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Hello, when I was studying I have read this example: 'I wish I didn't have to work tomorrow, but unfortunately I do' why he didn't say 'but unfortunately, I will have to work tomorrow' and is it correct to say that? also if he says example like this: 'I wish I didn't have to (travel or leave) tomorrow, but unfortunately I will have to (travel or leave) tomorrow' is it correct too? Thank you,

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 17/12/2016 - 09:21

In reply to by mohamedfathy

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Hello Mohamed ahmed fathy,

The 'I do' in this sentence does not refer to 'work' but to 'have to'. In other words, the full sentence would be:

I wish I didn't have to work tomorrow, but unfortunately I have to work tomorrow.

It would not be wrong to say:

I wish I didn't have to work tomorrow, but unfortunately I will have to.

This is because you can see the obligation (have to) as something which you already have or something which you will have tomorrow. It's a question of the speaker's perspective.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Widescreen on Sat, 26/11/2016 - 13:30

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I would like to ask a question regarding "as if" please? " It was along time ago that we first met but I remember it as if it were yesterday". Is it more grammatically correct if I use " as if it had been yesterday" ? The reason being the sentence is in past tense so for something in the past we have to use past perfect after as if. thanks

Hello Widescreen,

There is no need to change 'were' here. The remembering is now; the hypothetical present (not past) is 'were'. The speaker is talking about the present here (his current memory), not the past (the actual day), and the 'if' is part of a phrase meaning 'as though', not part of a conditional structure.

If the verb 'remember' was in the past ('remembered'), shifting the whole context into the past, then we might say 'had been'. 

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much for your explanation. Another thing I would like to ask is on the topic of sequence of tense. I could not find any information regarding this on your site and I am interested in this because to use the tense in a simple sentence is not so difficult but I find it confusing with sentences that contain multiple clauses ( main and sub clauses). Your guidance on where to find the info would be much appreciated. thank you.

Hello Widescreen,

The use of different tenses is combination depends upon what the speaker wishes to say and the context of the utterance, not the clauses in the sentence. You can break a complex sentence into separate sentneces and the tenses will very rarely change, as the context remains the same.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

A few online materials mentioned that when the tense in the main clause is past tense, the tense in the sub clause must be in according past tense except for when the speaker is talking about something which is a universal truth or habit. But I have come across example whose sub tense does not fall within any of the mentioned above. Eg: " He SAID he WILL be ok / or : He said he IS ok. SO Iam confusing as to whether there actually any sequence between small sentences in a complex sentence. Kindly clarify this for me. Thank you.