Unit 38. if i knew… i wish i knew… – grammar in use

A. Study this example situation:
Sue wants to phone Paul but she can’t do this because she doesn’t know his number. She says:
If I knew his number, I would phone him.
Sue says: If I knew his number… . This tells us that she doesn’t know his number.
She is imagining the situation. The real situation is that she doesn’t know his number.
When you imagine a situation like this, you use if + past (if I knew/if you were/if we didn’t etc.). But the meaning is present, not past:
* Tom would read more if he had more time. (but he doesn’t have much time)
* If I didn’t want to go to the party, I wouldn’t go. (but I want to go)
* We wouldn’t have any money if we didn’t work. (but we work)
* If you were in my position, what would you do?
* It’s a pity you can’t drive. It would be useful if you could.
B. We use the past in the same way after wish (I wish I knew/I wish you were etc.). We use wish to say that we regret something, that something is not as we would like it to be:
* I wish I knew Paul’s phone number. (= I don’t know it and I regret this)
* Do you ever wish you could fly? (you can’t fly)
* It rains a lot here. I wish it didn’t rain so Often.
* It’s very crowded here. I wish there weren’t so many people. (but there are a lot of people)
* I wish I didn’t have to work. (but I have to work)
C. After if and wish, you can use were instead of was (if I were I wish it were etc.). So you can say:
* If I were you, I wouldn’t buy that coat. or If I was you…
* I’d go out if it weren’t raining. or if it wasn’t raining.
* I wish it were possible. or I wish it was possible.
D. We do not normally use would in the if-part of the sentence or after wish:
* If I were rich, I would have a yacht. (not ‘If I would be rich’)
* I wish I had something to read. (not ‘I wish I would have’)
Sometimes wish… would is possible (‘I wish you would listen’). See Unit 40C.
E. Note that could sometimes means ‘would be able to’ and sometimes ‘was/were able to’:
* You could get a job more easily. (you could get = you would be able to get)
If you could speak a foreign language. (you could speak = you were able to speak)



Unit 38. if i knew… i wish i knew… – grammar in use