Unit 35. If and wish sentences (present)

Study this example situation:

Tom wants to call Sue, but he can’t because he doesn’t know her telephone number. He says:

If I knew her number, I would call her.

Tom says “If I knew her number….” This tells us that he doesn’t know her number. He is imagining the situation. The real situation is that he doesn’t know her number.

When you imagine a situation like this, you use a past tense form (“I did / I had / I knew,” etc.) after if. But the meaning is present, not past:

  • Tom would travel if he had more money! (but he doesn’t have much money)

  • If I didn’t want to go, I wouldn’t, (but I want to go)

  • We wouldn’t have any money if we didn’t work, (but we work)

    We also use the past for a present situation after wish. We use wish to say that we regret something, that something is not as we would like it to be:

    I wish I knew Sue’s telephone number. (I don’t know it.)


    Do you ever wish you could fly? (You can’t fly.)


    I wish it didn’t rain so much in this city. (It rains a lot.)


    It’s crowded here. I wish there weren’t so many people. (There are a lot of people.)


    I wish I didn’t have to work. (I have to work.)

    In if sentences and after wish we use were instead of was:

  • If I were you, I wouldn’t buy that coat, (but I am not you)

  • I’d go out if it weren’t raining, (but it is raining)

  • I wish my room were larger, (but it isn’t very large)

    Do not use would in the if part of the sentence or after wish:

  • If I were rich, I would buy a castle, (not if I would be rich)

  • I wish I were taller, (not I wish I would be taller.) But sometimes I wish… would… is possible. See Unit 37.

    Could sometimes means “would be able to” and sometimes “was able to”:

  • She could (= would be able to) get a job more easily if she could (= was able to) type.

    For if sentences and wish see also Units 34, 36, and 37.

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