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The Sulinet Advanced Grammar Course

 The Sulinet Advanced Grammar Course

 

Unit 10.

 

UNREAL PAST

 

 

Different structures express that something does not/did not happen in a certain way and that it should or should have.

 

1. Wish and if only

a)     Wish or if only followed by past (simple or continuous) may refer to something that would be good if it were (not) true, but which cannot be changed, or the change does not depend on us. If only without a subject refers to first person or expresses a general wish, and is more formal. The verb Wish can also be in simple past tense. The difference between wish and if only is that if only can be followed or preceded by a clause of condition.

If only/I wish I lived/didn’t live/could live near the sea.

He wishes/wished he wasn’t/weren’t so old. (were is more formal than was)

           If only it wasn’t/weren’t raining so hard.

If only one could sit down, this would be one of the most delightful places in the world.

 

b)     Wish or if only followed by would refer to criticism of something that could be changed. It is always addressed towards someone or something, but not the speaker. (That is why if there is would, the two subjects cannot be the same.) Again, wish can also be in simple past tense.

If only/I wish you would read more books.

(NOT If only/I wish I would read more. NOR You wish you would read more.)

Anthony wishes/wished his neighbour’s cat wouldn’t always do a mess in his garden.

 

c)     To refer to something in the past if only or wish followed by past perfect can be used, but never ‘would have + past participle’. The structure ‘could have + past participle’ is also possible, but not in negative sentences.

I wish I had lived/could have lived near the sea when I was a child.

(NOT If only/I wish I would have lived near the sea when I was a child.)

If only/I wish we could have spoken to you yesterday. OR

If only/I wish we had been able to speak to you yesterday.

           (NOT I wish I couldn’t have missed you yesterday.)

           If only/I wish you had read more books at school.

           (NOT If only/I wish you would have read more books at school.)

 

d)     If and only can be separated by subject + be (was or rather were), the past participle and the modals could and would.

If they were only here with me now or if I only knew where to go.

           If I had only realised this earlier.

           If we could only spend more time together.

           If you would only spend more time with me.

 

e)     Wish can also be used with that, but it cannot be used to express future. We use hope for that instead.

When I was a child I wished (that) I could be an Olympic champion one day.

I hope that we can meet tomorrow.

(NOT I wish (that) we could meet tomorrow.)

 

2. As if and as though

As if and as though are used with unreal past tense to refer to an unreal comparison. (If the comparison is real, then other tenses are also possible and, for the sake of simplicity, we will also be discussing these in this unit.) The verbs that can be used this way are: act, behave, feel, look, seem, sound, smell, speak, talk. As if/as though might appear in constructions with it: ‘it + appears/looks/seems/sounds’.

           It seems as if they’ve met before.

 

a) As if/as though + a verb in the past describes an unreal situation or state referring to both present and past.

           He talks as if/as though he knew everything, but he doesn’t.

           He talked as if/as though he knew everything, but he didn’t.

 

b) As if/as though + past perfect is used if we talk about an action that might have happened earlier.

She acts as if/as though nothing had changed between us, but everything has changed.

She acted as if/as though nothing had changed between us, but everything had changed.

 

c) If the statement is true, all tenses might be used after as if/as though (depending on the verb before as if/as though).

It looks as if/as though this little prodigy knows everything.

I felt as if I knew you, and you knew me, almost from the beginning of time.

She shook her head as if she had been swimming.

           It looks as if this will be/is going to be a lovely day.

 

d) As if/as though can also be used in abbreviated clauses, by deleting the subject and the verb ‘be’. This way as if/as though can be followed by the to-infinitive, the ing form or an adjective.

           She started as though to make for the front door.

He raised his arm as if to protect himself.

           Clive searched his pockets, as if looking for a train ticket.

           He gazes hard into my face, as though hoping I will change my mind.

           Lisa had got a job at last, as if/as though tired of waiting anymore.

 

3. It is time

The expression it is time/about time/high time can be used with the structure ‘it is time (for + object +) to-infinitive’ or with ‘it is time (that +) subject + past (simple or continuous)’.

           It’s time (that) we started preparing the meal. OR

           It’s time (for us) to start preparing the meal.

           It’s high time (that) you left/were leaving. OR

           It’s high time (for you) to leave.

 

4. Would rather and would sooner

Would (far/much) rather/sooner + other subject + past (simple or continuous)’ refer to present preferences, while ‘would rather/sooner + other subject + past perfect (simple or continuous)’ refer to past preferences. Would sooner in these structures is much less frequent than would rather.

I would (far/much) rather she came/didn’t come with us today.

I would (far/much) rather she had(n’t) come with us yesterday.

(NOT I would (far/much) rather she didn’t come with us yesterday.)

 

Note: If the subjects are the same, the present or past infinitive without to is used.

           She would rather/sooner read something than go out.

           She would rather/sooner have read something than go out.