You are here

'wish' and 'if only'

Do you know how to use wish and if only to talk about things you would like to change?

Look at these examples to see how wish and if only are used.

That guy is so annoying! I wish he'd stop talking.
I wish I lived closer to my family.
If only I hadn't lost her phone number. She must think I'm so rude for not calling her.
I wish they wouldn't park their car in front of my house.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

'wish' and 'if only': Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

We use wish and if only to talk about things that we would like to be different in either the present or the past. If only is usually a bit stronger than wish

In the present

We can use wish/if only + a past form to talk about a present situation we would like to be different. 

I wish you didn't live so far away.
If only we knew what to do.
He wishes he could afford a holiday.

In the past

We can use wish/if only + a past perfect form to talk about something we would like to change about the past. 

They wish they hadn't eaten so much chocolate. They're feeling very sick now.
If only I'd studied harder when I was at school. 

Expressing annoyance

We can use wish + would(n't) to show that we are annoyed with what someone or something does or doesn't do. We often feel that they are unlikely or unwilling to change.

I wish you wouldn't borrow my clothes without asking.
I wish it would rain. The garden really needs some water.
She wishes he'd work less. They never spend any time together.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

'wish' and 'if only': Grammar test 2

Language level

Upper intermediate: B2


In my opinion the answer of question 2 must be "He wishes he would travel back in time and visit Ancient Rome." because there is no possibility to go back in time to Ancient Rome. It's a kind of feeling which is unlikely.

Hello Inci Ozturk,

You're right in thinking that 'could' can be used to speak about possibility, but it is also used to speak about ability, and that is the meaning here.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Is it okay to use "could" in the first part of the sentence in which "if only" used?

Hello again Inci Ozturk,

You can use 'could' after 'if only', e.g. 'If only I could travel! I'd really like to go and visit my family', but I'm not sure if that's what you mean.

Could you give an example? It's difficult to give a general rule without knowing precisely what you mean.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

It is very good . Thanks

I wish I hadn't read the rules . If only I had read them more carefully, I wouldn't have made many mistakes. I wish I had such results.

When we use the ‘could’. Please explain to me.

Hello Nandintsetseg,

You can read about 'could' on our 'can' and 'could' grammar page. If you have any more specific questions, please don't hesitate to ask us there.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Very useful materials with clear examples are given. Thank you.

Hi! Thanks for the information it was really useful. I just want to know whether i can use both “didn’t rain” and “wouldn’t rain” in the following sentence:
We are having such a lovely time in Scotland. If only it ____ all the time, though!