PAST TENSES FOR HYPOTHETICAL MEANINGS
We use past tenses after the following expressions to describe situations in the present, past or future which are imagined or unreal:
wish / if only / It’s (high) time, would rather / sooner, would prefer, as if / though, suppose/supposing, what if
Wish + Simple Past: used to communicate the idea that you would like your circumstances (e.g. the way you look, the place you live, etc) to be different from what they are now.
Note: I wish I was / I wish I were: are both possible and acceptable, I wish I were is more formal.
I wish I lived in a hotter country.
Wish + could: used to communicate the idea that you would like to be able to do something but you can’t.
I wish I could write like you.
We cannot use would for an impossible change:
If only the earth
would be was /were square.
Wish + somebody + would: used when you want somebody to do something, when you want somebody to stop doing something or when you are complaining about something annoying.
I wish he would stop talking.
Notice the difference between wish and hope. If we hope something will happen, we believe it is possible and likely.
I hope they will come. (= I wante them to and I think it’s likely.)
I wish they would come. (=I don’t believe it’s likely.)
Wish + Past Perfect: used to express regret for something you did or did not do in the past.
I wish I hadn’t shouted at her.
I wish I had gone to her party.
If only: it can be used instead of I wish and follows the same rules but it makes wishes more emphatic; in spoken English, only is often heavily stressed.
If only I’d taken them up on their offer.
We can put a subject between if and only for emphasis:
If only you / If you only knew what I’ve been going through.
We use this expression to say that something is not happening and it should be:
It’s (high) time you gave up playing computer games. (You should give them up)
Would rather / sooner, would prefer
I’d rather / I’d sooner you didn’t ask me for any more money. (Please don’t)
I’d prefer it if you didn’t ask me for any more money.
If the speaker and the preference are the same, we use an infinitive, not the past tense:
I’d rather/sooner watch TV. (not
I’d prefer to watch TV.(not
We can also say I’d prefer you not to go.
as if / as though
We use the past after as if / as though to indicate that the situation is unlikely.
He acts as if / as though he was (were) a teenager. (In fact, he is in his thirties.)
We use a present tense to indicate that something is likey.
He looks as if / though he is a teenager. (And he probably is.)
suppose / supposing, imagine, what if
We use these expressions to ask about an imaginary situation in the present or future, and its possible consequences:
(Just) suppose/ supposing/ imagine you won the lottery, how would you spend the money?
What if you had hurt yourself – what would have happened then?