Wishes: 'wish' and 'if only'

Wishes: 'wish' and 'if only'

Do you know how to use wish and if only to talk about things you would like to change? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

Average: 4.3 (52 votes)
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Hello Gayane Dayan,

Yes, you can use either form in that sentence.

Didn't rain expresses a counter-factual idea (it does rain > I wish it didn't/if only it didn't).

Wouldn't rain is an example of anthropomorphism. It implies that the weather has a will of its own and has decided to rain. This is similar to sentences like My computer won't work, where won't means something like refuses to.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Birgit17 on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 09:53

hello is there anyone who could explain to me why in this sentence , it's not: I'm starving. If only there were a restaurant open now rather than I'm starving. If only there was a restaurant open now. Thanks a lot for your response
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 14:33

In reply to by Birgit17


Hello Birgit17

You could also say 'If only there were a restaurant open now' -- that is also correct and means the same thing. You can use 'was' or 'were' for all subjects in statements about wishes or imaginary situations (e.g. 'If I were you, I wouldn't do that').

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello khalid Ibrahim

It's sometimes a little tricky to see, but in our exercises, the speaker says something to express their annoyance. Look, for example, at the first three sentences of Task 2:

  1. If only they _____ you for advice before they started the project. You're the expert!
  2. He wishes he ____ back in time and visit Ancient Rome.
  3. I wish she _____ her shoes there. I'm always falling over them.

In 1, since they say 'before they started the project', it's clearly a past time. It's possible the speaker is annoyed, but since they're talking about a past event, 'would ask' is not grammatically correct. The only possibility is 'had asked'.

In 2, there is no expression of annoyance, so 'would travel' doesn't make any sense; 'could travel' is the answer.

In 3, 'I'm always falling over them' expresses annoyance with something that happens repeatedly, therefore 'wouldn't leave' is the correct answer.

I hope this helps. If you have any further questions, we're happy to help, but please tell us which specific question you are confused about and tell us what you think the correct answer is.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Justme on Tue, 21/04/2020 - 18:35

Hello. Can anyone help me with this exercise? I don't really understand how I'm supposed to do it.. Please and thank you! Express a wish or regret about these facts. Use the words in brackets. 1. I don’t speak English fluently. (wish) 2. You speak very fast. I don’t understand. (If) 3. I’m an only child. (wish) 4. We don’t have enough money for a holiday. (If only) 5. I get up at six o’clock every morning. I have to go to work. (wouldn’t/if) 6. I didn’t learn to ski until I was forty. I’m not very good. (If) 7. My 13 year old sister wants to be older. (she wishes) 8. My best friend always borrows my things without asking (I'd rather) 9. I don't know anything about computers. I can't help you. (If) 10. We want to have a break. (It's time)

Hello Justme,

I'm afraid we don't provide help of this sort. We're a small team here and we try to provide as much help as we can for users with questions about the English language, but we can't help with homework or tests from elsewhere.



The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by OlaIELTS on Fri, 17/04/2020 - 17:29

It's really helpful.

Submitted by ilnicholas87 on Thu, 09/04/2020 - 20:01

Hi Kirk, sorry but I have difficulty learning and understand how and when I use the time ( past participle, past simple, future, ...) where can I study these and improve the use? thank you
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 10/04/2020 - 07:33

In reply to by ilnicholas87


Hi ilnicholas87,

That's a very big topic.

One thing that's important to remember is that time (when an action happens) and tense (forms of the verb) are not the same thing. We can use past tense, for example, to talk about the present or even the future.

It's also important to remember that time is not the only important element of a verb's meaning. Aspect, which deals with things like whether an action is permanent or temporary, finished or unfinished, repeated or singular and so on, is also very important.


The grammar pages on LearnEnglish have a section on verbs. You can find it here:


On the right you'll see links to different aspects of the verb system. The pages on talking about the past, present and future would be a good place to start, I think.



The LearnEnglish Team