Wish, rather, if only, it’s time – unreal uses of past tenses
Choose the correct option to complete the sentences below.
I wish/If only
I wish I did
We can use wish + past simple to talk about things that we would like to be different in the present or future (but which are very unlikely or impossible).
- I wish things were different, but this is the way they are.
- We wish we had enough money to help you.
- I wish I could be there for you tomorrow.
I wish I had done
We can use wish + past perfect to talk about things that happened in the past and that we regret (we would have wanted them to be different).
- I wish I hadn’t quit my job two years ago.
- I wish we hadn’t wasted all that money.
I wish you would do
We can use wish + person/thing + would + infinitive when we talk about situations that annoy us and we would like them to change, or to stop.
- I wish you would stop biting your nails. I hate it when you do it.
- I wish it would stop raining. It’s been three days!
We CANNOT use this structure to wish about ourselves (do NOT use I wish I would).
We can use if only instead of I wish to mean the same. The only difference is that if only is more emphatic.
- If only I was/were a bit taller!*
- If only you had followed my advice.
- If only you would make a bit of an effort. You are wasting your life!
Note that we can use were instead of was with I/he/she after I wish/if only.
Would rather/would sooner
Would rather (than)/would sooner (than)
We use would rather or would sooner + infinitive to talk about preference. We can use them with than in affirmative sentences or with or in questions.
- I’d rather/sooner have tea, please.
- I’d rather/sooner have tea than coffee.
- Would you rather/sooner have tea or coffee?
Would rather/would sooner + subject + past simple
When we use a different subject after would rather or would sooner, we use past simple to refer to the present or future.
- We’d rather/sooner she was/were with us now.*
- She’d rather/sooner I picked her up after lunch.
- Would you rather/sooner we went by bus or by train?
Note that we can use were instead of was with I/he/she after would rather or would sooner.
Would rather/would sooner + subject + past perfect
When we use a different subject after would rather or would sooner, we use past perfect to refer to the past.
- I’d rather/sooner you hadn’t spoken to her like that.
- I’d rather/sooner you had called me before.
It’s (high) time + subject + past simple
We can use it’s time or it’s high time followed by a subject and a past simple verb to say that something should be done now or in the future.
- It’s time you went to the doctor.
- I really think it’s high time you took a decision. We can’t go on like this any longer.
We can also use the alternatives it’s time + to infinitive or it’s time for someone + to-infinitive.
- It’s time for you to go to the doctor.
- It’s time to take a decision.
Suppose, supposing, imagine, and what if can be used like we use if in conditionals. So after these words, we use the present tense for real situations (first conditional), and the past simple or past perfect for unreal situations (second and third conditionals).
- Imagine you meet him in the street, what are you going to tell him? (=First conditional: If you meet him in the street, what are you going to tell him?)
- What if you found a suitcase full of money? What would you do? (=Second conditional: If you found a suitcase full of money, what would you do?)
- Supposing she hadn’t told you anything, you would have acted differently. (=Third conditional: If she hadn’t told you anything, you would have acted differently.)
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