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Hypothetical Situations

Expressing wishes, preferences and imagined situations


Hypothetical situations are situations that we imagine. There are specific English grammar structures, phrases and forms to express hypothetical situations. Here are some examples of some hypothetical situations using a wide variety of forms.

They would invest in R & D if they had the capitol. - Conditional Form
If only we had enough time to take a vacation. - Partial conditional form / set phrase 'if only'
It's time we improved our sales. - set phrase 'it's time'
I wish he lived here. - Verb 'wish' to express a desire

English uses conditional forms to express hypothetical situations.

If they have time, they will come to the meeting.
They would invest in R & D if they had the capitol.
If Jack had taken the job, he wouldn’t have been satisfied.

There are also a number of other forms to express hypothetical situations in English.

If Only

‘If only’ takes the same verb forms as ‘wish’. This form is used as a means of stressing the importance of the wish or hypothetical situation. The form is often also used with an exclamation point.

If only there were more job opportunities!
If only Mary could work for us.
If only our friends had time to take a vacation with us in Hawaii.

‘If only’ can also be used with ‘would / wouldn’t’ to criticize another person.

If only the boss would listen to my proposals!
If only Jeff would consider hiring Peter.
If only Susan wouldn't spend so much time online.

'If only' statements generally imply some sort of solution. Here are some of the example sentences with the implied solutions provided.

If only there were more job opportunities! - I could find a better job.
If only Jeff would consider hiring Peter. - He's the perfect person for the job.
If only Susan wouldn't spend so much time online. - It can't be healthy for her.

It’s Time

Use ‘it’s time’ with the past simple to talk about an action which finally is taking place, or should take place soon. It always refers to an action or state that should have taken place before the moment of speaking.

It’s time you began working on your own.
It's time we changed to a new internet service provider.
It's time they grew up!

Variations on ‘It’s Time’

Here are some common variations on ‘it’s time’ which have the same meaning:

It’s about time…
It’s high time…

It’s high time she took a shower!
It's about time we left for the meeting.

Would Rather

There are three uses of ‘would rather’ to express hypothetical situations:

Would Rather + Base Form of Verb

Use ‘would rather’ + the base form of a verb to talk about our preferences in the present or the future:

He’d rather his employees work less overtime.
I'd rather leave now.
Jack would rather take a different approach.

In each of these cases, the phrase with 'would rather' shows that another action is taking place than the preferred action of the subject of the sentence.

Would Rather + Past Perfect

Use ‘would rather’ + past perfect to express hypothetical situations in the past:

They’d rather they hadn’t spent so much on the marketing campaign.
Mary would rather she had chosen a different position.


We use ‘wish’ to talk about situations we’d like to change. In this sense, ‘wish’ is very similar to the second or third conditionals because it poses an imaginary situation.

Wish for Present Situations

When we are wishing for change in a present situation, we use ‘wish’ plus the simple past.

The director wishes he could attend the presentation.
They wish he concentrated more on his work and less on his hobbies.

Wish for Past Situations

When we are speaking about a past situation in a present moment, we use ‘wish’ plus the past perfect.

Janet wishes she had applied for a new position.
We wish you had seen the opportunity in time.

Wish - Similar to Conditionals

The use of 'wish' is similar to the use of conditional forms. To improve your understanding of conditionals, this conditional forms page reviews each of the four forms in detail. To practice conditional form structure, this real and unreal conditional form worksheet provides a quick review and practice exercises, the past conditional worksheet focuses on using the form in the past. Teachers can use this guide on how to teach conditionals, as well as this conditional forms lesson plan to introduce and practice the first and second conditional forms in class.

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