We use the past tenses to talk about hypothetical situations (situations which are not true). When we talk about our wishes or desires, we use the present tense.

1. Hypothetical Situation in the present or the future
- Supposing
- I wish (Note: wish + could = a desired ability)
- What if
- If only (Note: If only is stronger than I wish)
- Would rather (Expresses a preference in the future)

+ past simple

Supposing a cat and a dog fell in love
I wish he used less after-shave / I wish I could swim
What if we went on holiday to Italy this year?
If only we hadn’t eaten so much
He would rather he worked from home
2. Hypothetical Situation in the past
- Supposing
- I wish
- What if
- If only
- Would rather

+ past perfect

Supposing we had won the lottery
I wish I had accepted that job offer
What if your car had been stolen?
If only we had parked nearer to the station
Mary would rather she had chosen a different position
3. Preferences in the present or future
- I would rather
+ verb base (= the infinitive minus “to”)He would rather his employees work less overtime
4. Irritating habits of others
- I wish
+ would + verb baseI wish he would clean up in the kitchen after he’s eaten
5. Something which should have already happened
- It’s about time
- It’s high time
- It’s time

+ past simple

It’s about time we changed to a different phone company
It’s high time we painted the house
It’s time we went to see your grandmother

Note that with …would rather…, the word which is stressed can be used to show what our preference is:

– I’d rather you went. (instead of me)
– I’d rather you went. (instead of staying)
– I’d rather you did the housework. (instead of the cooking)