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 HLH on Thu, 25/01/2024 - 08:26

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Hello Kirk
Why do you use the simple past with wish with some verbs are correct with other verbs are incorrect and both meaning are not true
examples about future
those example are incorrect and I mean is not true
I wish you came tomorrow
I wish it rained tomorrow

and those example are correct and I mean is not true
I wish John wasn't busy tomorrow
I wish that we didn't need to work tomorrow

examples about present
this example is incorrect and I mean is not true
I wish it didn’t rain heavily now

this example is correct and I mean is not true
I wish it wasn't raining heavily now
I wish that I had a big house now
I wish my students studied more ( I don't know about now or repeatedly or regularly )

I think with wish with simple past I use stative verbs only to talk about now and future and Non-stative verbs I use to talk about repeatedly or regularly same meaning simple present

Hello HLH,

The difference between the first two sentences and the second two is that the second two are clearly referring to scheduled events; it's as if we're looking at a diary and can see that John is busy and that we have to work. The past tense refers to an unreal/untrue situation.

The first two sentences are unnatural. You could say 'I wish you were coming tomorrow'; the continuous tense has the same idea as the present continuous does for talking about the future. The second sentence is unnatural because we don't use the present simple to talk about the weather at a specific time like tomorrow; in the same line, we don't use the past simple to refer to an unreal event at a specific time.

The fifth sentence is not correct because it's a simple tense. We use continuous tenses to talk about the weather at a particular time like now.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by HLH on Tue, 23/01/2024 - 16:19

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Hello Team
Do stative verbs with the simple past mean now and also the future and means simple present habits and facts?
I wish I was taller means now
I wish John wasn't busy tomorrow means future
I wish that he didn't need to work all my life means simple present habits and facts
but with Non-stative verbs with simple past can not use for now and future
I can use only for mean simple present habits and facts

Hello HLH,

  1. 'I wish I was taller.' 
  2. 'I wish John wasn't busy tomorrow.' 
  3. 'I wish that he didn't need to work all my life.'

As you say, 1 refers to the present. It's a wish about your height now.

As you say, 2 refers to the future ('tomorrow').

In 3, the past verb form 'didn't need' refers to the present. It means that he does need to work all my life, but you that you wish this was not true.

Unless I'm forgetting something, it doesn't matter whether the verb after 'I wish' is stative or not. Non-stative verbs have similar meanings to 1-3 above. For example, 'I wish we were travelling first class' is very similar to 3. Or 'I wish my students studied more' also refers to a present situation and talks about a situation that is not true.

Does that answer your question?

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Pompsinette on Tue, 02/01/2024 - 20:31

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Hello, how are you?
Can you tell me if I have understood correctly?
1 - I wish my English would get better with more practice → I think it"s impossible
2 - I hope my English will get better with more practice → I think it's possible
Thank you in advance and happy new year!
Fanny

Hello Pompsinette,

Yes, those sentences are correct. However, the first one does not mean that it is impossible but rather than it is not happening yet. That means a dialogue like this is possible:

A: I wish my English would get better with more practice, but it just doesn't seem to be happening.

B: Don't give up! Sometimes you don't see any progress and then suddenly there's a leap forwards!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by wkey12 on Thu, 05/10/2023 - 12:38

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Hi, I have a few questions:
1) When I say I wish it would stop raining, does it mean it won't happen ( it probably won't stop raining)
2) If yes, does 'wish' prefer something likely to happen while 'hope' prefers something unlikely to happen
3) When I say "I wish you a good day" and "I hope you have a good day", is there any difference in the meaning like the probabilities of something will happen?
Thanks in advance

Hello wkey12,

1) It means a) that it is raining and b) that you expect it to continue raining. You don't like the situation but you're pretty sure that it will continue.

2) We use 'wish [that]' to speak about something we would like to happen but which we consider unlikely. Your previous sentence about the rain is a good example. It can also be used to speak about a regret, i.e. a wish that something was different in the past: 'I wish I had worked harder in school. Now I could get a better job if I had.'

3) The use of 'wish' in 'I wish you a good day' is different from 2. In this case, 'wish' means 'hope you have'. Except for its use in some set expressions (e.g. 'I wish you a Merry Christmas' or 'Wishing you a happy birthday'), this use of 'wish' as a verb is unusual in most situations nowadays. There is no difference in meaning or probability between the two forms. The difference is that 'wish' is a form we don't use nearly as much as 'I hope'.

Great questions!

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by HLH on Tue, 26/09/2023 - 12:32

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Hello
can I use past simple for future
examples
I wish it rained tomorrow
I wish you came tomorrow
I wish I stayed with you longer
is this correct ?

Hello HLH,

No, the past tense forms here don't express wishes for the future. Instead, they communicate the idea of something that doesn't exist or isn't true or possible:

  • 'I wish it were raining' means that it's not raining now but that I want it to rain
  • 'I wish you could come tomorrow' means that I would like you to come tomorrow but you cannot
  • 'I wish I could stay with you longer' means I'd like to stay longer but I can't

We often use 'hope' to express wishes for the future. So your sentences should be something like:

  • 'I hope it rains tomorrow'
  • 'I hope you come tomorrow'
  • 'I hope I can stay with you longer'

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Submitted by Rita_79 on Sat, 16/09/2023 - 00:24

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Please help me know which sentence is correct:
It rains heavily, so I can’t go out.
I wish it didn’t rain heavily so that I can go out.
Or
I wish it didn’t rain heavily so that I could go out.

Hi Rita_79,

If you are talking about rain at this moment (the moment of speaking), it would be better to use a continuous form (e.g. It's raining). Simple forms (it rains = present simple; it didn't rain = past simple), mean the idea of raining repeatedly or regularly (e.g. It rains very often in London).

So, to talk about the rain right now, you can say either of these options.

  • It's raining heavily, so I can’t go out.
  • I wish it wasn't raining heavily so that I could go out. ("could" is needed, because this is an unreal action, not a real action)

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Fri, 04/08/2023 - 20:43

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Hello respected team,
school boards have the power to change this situation. Were they, for example, to mandate that every school employ a nutritionist to oversee cafeteria offerings as well as conduct healthy eating workshops, this could easily change the reality on the ground and going forward.
The sentence "Were they, for example, to mandate that every school.." why "were" is in the beginning of the sentences? Where can I read about this?
Thank you

Submitted by janele9284 on Fri, 21/07/2023 - 19:28

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Hi, I have a wonder. In this article, you say 'when we talk about wishes for futures, we use wish + would/ could", but in a video of BBC Learning (I attached the link below), they say "we use 'hope' for wishes in the futures'. Can you explain this difference? Thanks!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJcXRxy-nDU

Hello janele9284,

We use wish + could/would to talk about situations in the future that we do not believe will come true. In this sense they are true wishes, not expectations or beliefs. In all of the examples on the page, the situation is one in which the desired outcome is a dream or fantasy, not a reality:

I don't like my work. I wish I could get a better job. [...but I can't]

That's a dreadful noise. I wish it would stop. [...but it won't]

I always have to get home early. If only my parents would let me stay out later. [...but they won't]

Hope (or other verbs like want, desire, plan, mean, intend, expect etc) suggests that something is a realistic possibility. We have some optimism that it can occur. For example:

I hope I win the lottery! [I have a ticket - there's a chance]

I wish I could win the lottery! [I don't believe it will happen - in fact, I may not even have a ticket]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bbctol on Sun, 09/07/2023 - 04:23

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Hi! What verbs would you use in a sentence where another clause is inside a hypothetical clause? For example:

I wish that the class were one of the one that was offered to everyone.

Should the "was" be another "were"? "that were offered to everyone"? "that would be offered to everyone"? Which of these is most right?

Thanks!

Hello bbctol,

The correct sentence would be as follows:

I wish that the class were one of the ones that was offered to everyone.

 

Inside the relative clause here (that was offered...) there is no hypothetical meaning. It has an adjectival function providing a description of the preceding noun phrase.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lien.t on Tue, 06/06/2023 - 08:17

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Dear teacher,
I have a question about the usage of wish in the present and in the future. I think they should be all the wish in the future, due to it's contrary to the fact of this moment, nothing is real now, so can I use all the present wish with wish structure in the future (with "would", "could") ?. For example, I'd use lesson examples:

I don't like this place. I wish I lived somewhere more interesting. ==> Can I say : I don't like this place. I wish I could live somewhere more interesting ?
John wishes he wasn't so busy. ==> Can I say : John wishes he wouldn't be so busy.
Don't you ever wish you ___ more free time? ==> the answer is "had", but I want another answer, can I say Don't you ever wish you could have more free time ?

Hello lien.t,

Re: 1, you can say both 'I wish I lived' and 'I wish I could live', but there is a slight difference in meaning. 'I wish I could live' focuses on your ability to live in a different place -- perhaps, for example, you have the money to live in a different city, but you need to stay where you are so that you can take care of your elderly parents. 'I wish I lived' doesn't focus on ability; it's less specific.

Re: 2, we don't typically use 'I wish I would + verb' but instead 'I wish I verb-ed' (past form). We do use 'I wish (some other subject) + would + verb'. In this case, 'would' expresses the idea of the person or object not being willing to act as we wish. This is mentioned on our Wishes: 'wish' and 'if only' page.

3 is similar to 2. It's not correct to say 'John wishes he wouldn't be so busy'.

Re: 4, yes, you could also say 'could have'. It's similar to 1.

Does that help make sense of it?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Submitted by User_1 on Tue, 04/04/2023 - 14:23

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Hello,
About the verb "wish", in the present tense form, for something is likely to be true or to happen.
In the two sentences below:
I wish my English becomes better with practice
or
I would like my English to become better with practice
Is there any difference, or is the meaning the same?

Thanks for your reply.

Hello User_1,

'I wish my English becomes better with practice' is not correct -- we use a past form of some sort after 'wish' to express the idea of unreality, i.e. that things are not how we want them to be. I don't know Italian, but in Spanish and Catalan, for example, a subjunctive form is used to express this idea; in English, we use a past form as a kind of subjunctive form for the same purpose.

So you could say 'I wish my English became better with practice' and that would be correct. This expresses a wish that you don't think can be fulfilled; it means that your English is not improving despite your practice.

Or you use 'I hope' to express a wish for the future: 'I hope my English becomes better with practice'. This expresses a wish that you do think can be fulfilled.

I hope this helps you.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello Kirk,
I am really sorry for my mistake. I got confused.
Thanks for your explanation.

For sure, I prefer the expression "I hope my English becomes better with practice", and I hope this becomes reality.

All the best

Hello User_1,

No need to apologize! Making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process and I'm glad the explanation was useful.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by MirnaS on Tue, 28/03/2023 - 10:59

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Which one correct
1. It is raining outside.
I wish I slept
I wish I was sleeping

Hi MirnaS,

It should be I wish I was sleeping - because the idea is sleeping as a continuous action going on at the moment of speaking.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

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Submitted by khaledAl5 on Thu, 23/02/2023 - 14:08

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Hello everyone!

I have a question about “wish” when it refers to present and past.
Here’s a situation:

Robin: I go to work by car. How do you go to work?
Jack: I always go to work on my foot. I wish I went to work by car.

Robin: I don’t smoke. What about you?
Jack: I smoke. I wish I didn’t smoke.

Do these wish sentences are correct If we consider them as a state?

Hello khaledA15,

Yes, those sentences are fine. You can also use modal verbs to refer to possibility:

I wish I could go to work by car but it's not possible.

I wish I was able to stop smoking, but it's too difficult.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AboodKh9 on Wed, 22/02/2023 - 21:59

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Please help I am so confused about this kind of sentences:
The situation is: I did not pass the exam just now. Can I say:
1) I wish I passed the exam as a present wish.
Or 2) I wish I had passed the exam as a past regret.
???

Hello AboodKh9,

After 'wish' we move the tense (time reference) backwards to show that we are talking hypothetically. Thus, a wish or regret about the present uses past:

I wish I was taller! [wishing something about the present]

A wish or regret about the past uses past perfect:

I wish I had passed the exam.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Thank you, and I appreciate your effort. But I want to know exactly about this situation:
After I took my exam mark and I failed, I said "I wish I passed" it's correct or not?!

I will be so grateful if you clarify it to me.

Hello AboodKh9,

No, you need to use the past perfect as passing the exam was an act in the past:

I wish I had passed the exam.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sajatadib on Wed, 07/09/2022 - 11:44

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Let me wrap it up,please.When we don't know about the result of an event so that we could wish for something different, we use 'hope',whether it's in the past ,present or future.Like: I hope you did well on your test.(hope for a past event)
I hope you do/will do well on your test.(hope for a present or future event)
Did I get it right,Sir?

Submitted by Sajatadib on Tue, 06/09/2022 - 17:18

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Hello dear teachers,I've got a question concerning "hope".As it's been said in one of the comments,"hope" is used when the action is possible, but are these sentences correct: I hope you will win the game.( hope for the future)
I hope you win the game.( hope for the present or future)
Many thanks.

Hello Sajatadib,

We generally use the present simple after 'hope' ('I hope you win the game') and so I would recommend that version, but it's OK to use 'will' ('I hope you will win the game').

Good work!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kristina Karp on Sat, 23/07/2022 - 09:01

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Hello! Could you please explain the difference between usage wish and past perfect and would + present perfect (modals with have) for actions which didn't happen in the past?
like: Suppose you hadn't passed your exams. What would you have done?
Suppose you wouldn't have passed your exams. What would you have done?

Hi Kristina Karp,

Traditionally, only the first sentence is correct. So, if you are taking an exam (for example), I would recommend using that structure.

However, in modern English usage, it is becoming fairly common to use "would" as in your second sentence. Here's another example: "If you would have called me, I would have helped you." This is usually heard in speaking, especially in informal situations, but there are many people who consider it incorrect too. In any case, the meaning is the same as the first sentence.

It's a bit complicated but I hope that helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by NobelZ on Tue, 08/03/2022 - 17:34

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Hello there,
I wanted to know if we could use wish with simple present tense like "I wish I score good mark" and if yes what does it imply or mean by that. Thanks

Hello NobelZ,

To express a wish that we think is possible but we don't know will happen or not, we actually use 'hope' (+ present simple) instead of 'wish': 'I hope I score a good mark'. We can also use this same structure to express good will or intentions to others, e.g. 'I hope you get a good mark on your exam'.

It's also possible to use 'wish' to express good will, but the structure is different. We can say 'I wish you success on your exam' ('wish' + indirect object 'you' + direct object 'success on your exam').

More often, we use 'wish' to speak about a wish that we regard as not possible. That is the grammar explained on this page. If you wished you could get a good mark on an exam but see it as impossible, the most direct way of saying it is probably 'I wish I could get a good mark'.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Prap on Sat, 11/12/2021 - 04:29

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Good morning!
I wanted to know if 'I wish you to be quiet' and 'I wish that you will be quiet' mean the same.
Thanks in advance!

Hi Prap,

Actually, the second sentence should be "I wish (that) you WOULD be quiet" (use "would" with past forms to say your wishes for the future. See the examples on the page above).

Yes, it means the same things as your first sentence, but the first sentence is more formal in style than the second. :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 19/04/2021 - 14:55

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Hello Could you please help me? In the following sentence, I think both choices are correct, would you explain more? - We're going to be late. I wish you (would - could) hurry. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Both are grammatically correct, but I would choose would here. Would refers to the person's willingness. The sentence is asking the person to try a bit harder to hurry.

Could refers to the person's ability. I wish you could hurry means that, for some reason, the person is unable (not just unwilling) to hurry. So, I think the would option would be the more common situation.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 16/04/2021 - 21:55

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Hello Team. A colleague said that both choices are correct, what do you think? If so, could you please explain? - I wish I (were - had been) rich, I wouldn't have borrowed money from others. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Yes, I agree with your colleague. The two options both make sense, but they have slightly different meanings:

  • I wish I had been rich, ... - this third conditional structure shows an imagined past situation. In the sentence, 'being rich' refers specifically to the time when I borrowed the money (i.e., 'If I had been rich at that time, ...'). It sounds like the borrowing did not happen recently.
  • I wish I were rich, ... - this second conditional structure shows an imagined (i.e. unreal) present situation, i.e. being rich now. We might use this if the borrowing happened recently.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 05/04/2021 - 19:47

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Hello Team. Could you please help me? Which one is correct or both? - I wish that Tom was studying Chemistry at the moment. - I wish that Tom were studying Chemistry at the moment. Thank you.