'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

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Submitted by GiulianaAndy on Tue, 29/06/2021 - 02:25

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Hello, great lesson. However, I have a question: Imagine this situation: "I have got a splitting headache" and one of the hypothetical forms that I could say is: "I wish I didn't have a splitting headache", but could I say: "I wish I wouldn't have a splitting headache" or "If only I wouldn't have a splitting headache" instead of the first option?

Hello GiulianaAndy,

No, I'm afraid it wouldn't be correct to say 'I wish I wouldn't have a headache' or 'If only I wouldn't have a headache' in this case.

The subject of the verb 'have' in the sentence is 'I', not the headache, and it doesn't really express the idea of willingness or unwillingness. 

It's unusual (though not impossible) to say 'I wish I would' because we don't usually express wishes about our own behavior -- this is because, in theory at least, we are in control of our behavior and therefore don't have to make wishes about it. We wish for things that we're not completely in control of.

It's when we feel we aren't in complete control that we could use this 'I wish I would' structure. For example, if I say 'I wish I would stop smoking', it suggests that I don't think I am in complete control, perhaps because I'm addicted to nicotine.

It's possible to say 'I wish I stopped smoking', but that is odd because by doing that I'm talking about myself as an object. People don't normally use this grammar to speak about themselves in this way.

I hope this helps you make sense of the grammar.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aymanme2 on Fri, 04/06/2021 - 15:59

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Hello, sirs, I read in so many sources that it is incorrect to use 'wish + subject + would' when the subject of the two verbs is the same as in 'I wish I would (do)'. However, I sometimes find it difficult to avoid using this pattern as in the following examples: 1) I wish I wouldn't have to work tomorrow. (Or should it be 'I wish I didn't have to work tomorrow.'? 2) My brother wishes he would get his driving licence next Monday. (Or should it be 'My brother wishes he could get his driving licence next Monday.'? 3) I wish my son [would / could] join the faculty of medicine. Is there anyway that these examples could work? Please, provide me with detailed explanation concerning when and when not to use 'Subject a + wishes + subject a + would do...

Hello aymanme2,

Most of the time, we don't use 'would' in the clause after 'wish' when the subject of both clauses is the same. In the first situation you describe, instead you should say 'didn't have to work' (just as you suggest).

In the second situation, you could say 'could', but, unless I've misunderstood, it sounds to me as if a sentence with 'hope' might be more appropriate. We use 'wish' when we regard the outcome as impossible or very unlikely and 'hope' when we see it as possible. So, for example, if your brother is taking the driving licence exam on Monday, it would probably be more appropriate to say 'My brother hopes to get his licence on Monday' or 'I hope my brother gets his licence on Monday'.

In the third situation, both 'could' and 'would' are possible and the meanings are slightly different. 'I wish my son could join' means it's not possible for him to join, but that you wish it weren't impossible. 'I wish my son would join' means it's possible for him to join but that he doesn't want to and refuses to do it.

It is possible to use 'would' in a sentence with 'wish' where both clauses have the same subject, but it has a very specific meaning. For example, if I say 'I wish I would exercise every day', this means that I wish I had the desire or discipline to exercise every day but know that I don't. Like the third situation above, 'would' expresses the idea of desire or willingness. This is a pretty unusual situation and often we'd just say 'I wish I exercised every day', which is probably why grammar books don't mention it.

If you want to read a bit more about this, I'd suggest this page on 'wish' and this page on 'hope' on the Cambridge Dictionary website.

Hope this helps!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dewwoof on Wed, 31/03/2021 - 04:21

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Ouuu I got all correct. It was fun learning this. Thank you! :DD

Submitted by Rania Hapsari … on Wed, 31/03/2021 - 03:50

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Hi, i got 7/8 but i think it's ok and i should more improve again and more understanding the material, but the explaination is so clear and easy to understand.

Submitted by Rafaela1 on Sun, 21/03/2021 - 12:19

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I wish it would rain. The garden really needs some water. I wish I would eat less. I never wear a tight skirt any longer. ;)

Submitted by Dante2021 on Sat, 20/03/2021 - 00:47

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Hi! Here is my conclusion : 1/ we use "wish" or "if only" with past perfect form (Had+P.P) when we go further back in time when we are already talking about the past. It can make it clear that something had already happened at the time we are talking about. example : I wish I wasn't late (for work), by the time I arrived the client had already left.(correct me if I'm wrong) Peace.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 21/03/2021 - 07:02

In reply to by Dante2021

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Hi Dante2021,

We can use wish to talk about present or past regrets:

I wish I wasn't late. [a regret about the present: I am late now]

I wish I hadn't left my house late this morning. [a regret about the past: this morning]

I wish I hadn't been late yesterday. [a regret about the past: yesterday]

Regrets about the present are expressed with {wish + past simple]; regrets about the past are expressed with [wish + past perfect].

 

In your example the past perfect (had already left) is not part of a grammatical construction with wish; it is part of a different clause which provides context and explanation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maahir on Tue, 16/03/2021 - 08:48

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Hello, In test,1 there is a questions saying-- If only he _____ here now. He'd know what to do. with three options ( Would be, wasn't and were) to answer this, I have chosen would be, and it says that (were is the correct answer) so I was wondering if we can use (were) with(he, she or it). I hope you understood my question. Thanks.

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 16/03/2021 - 15:21

In reply to by Maahir

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Hello Maahir,

'would be' is not correct here. The only possible answers for this are 'was' and 'were', and since 'were' is your only option, it is the correct answer in this exercise.

When speaking about a hypothetical or unreal situation -- which is the case in this sentence, since it means that he is not here right now -- it's possible to say 'were' or 'was' for any person. In other words, it's correct to say 'I were' and 'he/she/it were', and it's also correct to say 'I was' and 'he/she/it was'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MohammedAhmed on Tue, 02/03/2021 - 13:55

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Hallo Can I say " I wish you come with us today " it is about a present situation with present tense

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 03/03/2021 - 08:36

In reply to by MohammedAhmed

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Hello MohammedAhmed,

I'm afraid that's not grammatically correct. If I correctly understand what you want to communicate, I'd recommend 'I hope you come with us today'.

We use 'wish' and 'if only' to speak about things we would like to be different, but usually which can't be different, at least for the moment. When we want to speak about something more possible, we use 'hope'.

You might find this more detailed explanation useful.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ayn on Tue, 02/03/2021 - 12:56

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It looks like rain. I wish I ____ my umbrella. There is looks, which shows that there is a present meaning. So, shouldn't we fill in the blank as "brought"?

Hello Ayn,

We use 'wish' and 'if only' to speak about things we would like to be different, but which can't be different right now. In this situation, for example, the idea is that we did not bring our umbrella. This is why 'had brought' is the correct answer here.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Yes, it does, thanks. I have one more question. I wish she were my wife. I wish she was my wife. Which one is correct and can you give reasons?

Hello Ayn,

Great! 'was' and 'were' both mean exactly the same thing here. Many years ago, only 'were' was correct here because it is the subjunctive form. But over the years, 'was' has come to be accepted as an alternative. There are still some people who have a more traditional view that might say that 'were' is really the only correct form, but if you look at how people speak and write, you'll find both forms in common use.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aymanme2 on Thu, 18/02/2021 - 16:53

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Thanks a lot, sir. I have another question. Which is the right option? I wish mom __(didn't whistle _ hadn't whistled) while she was doing the washing up. I think it is 'hadn't whistled' to express a wish of a past action; While she WAS DOING ....... I think 'didn't whistle / wouldn't whistle' can work if we say: I which mom didn't whistle / wouldn't whistle while SHE IS doing the washing up. = to express a present wish.

Hello aymanme2,

Yes, that's correct. Well done! It looks as if you understand this very well.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafaela1 on Thu, 18/02/2021 - 14:30

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If only I'd been a human being. ;) ʕ•ﻌ•ʔฅ

Submitted by MARUFA MARJAN … (not verified) on Thu, 18/02/2021 - 06:30

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I'm having some trouble with this sentence, it would be kind enough if someone could help me... Let, I never met my mother-in-law coz she had died long before we got married, in this case what should I say... a. I wish I met her. b. I wish I had met her. c. I wish I could meet her.

Hello MARUFA MARJAN PRITHIE,

Your sentence describes a past situation and you are talking about an something which was not true (you did not meet her). For an unreal past like this you use wish + past perfect. Thus, the correct answer is b - I wish I had met her.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for ur reply... One more qstn... I hear so many people say- "I wish I would have met her 20 years ago" Is this grammatically correct? Shouldn't it be "I wish I had met her 20 years ago" ?

Hello again MARUFA MARJAN PRITHIE,

'I wish I would have...' is not a standard form. As you say, 'I wish I had...' is correct.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by BETSY on Thu, 18/02/2021 - 00:10

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I´m confused, in test 1says.."If only he were here now", but I have learned that "were" is used in the second person (you) and "was" with third person. Could you help me.

Hello BETSY,

In unreal if-clauses we can use were instead of was. This is true for all subjects and not only the third person. It's only in this construction that we do this.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafaela1 on Tue, 29/12/2020 - 13:17

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I wish to talk to you, oh my Lord. ;)

Submitted by soniariverofdez on Mon, 28/12/2020 - 13:53

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I wish people _____ loud music on the train. What's wrong with using headphones?! It´s talking about present I think in the second part of the sentences. So, why not used past?? I'm starving. If obly there was a resaturant open now. Why not use "would be" instead?? If only he were here now. he'd know what to do. Why not would be??? thanks

Hello soniariverofdez,

We use the past to express hypotehtical or unreal situations. I don't know if you know Spanish or not, but if you do, it's similar in Spanish -- '... que la gente no pusiera ...'

The same is true of expressions with 'if only'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by farhad zada on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 07:48

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In grammer test 1 "I wish he "were"?. Does were go with "he"

Hello Farhad,

Yes, this is correct. When 'be' follows the word 'if' or the verb 'wish', it is grammatically correct to say things like 'if I were', 'I wish he were', 'she wishes she were' and 'if it were'. When we use the past simple in this way, we aren't speaking about the past, but rather about a hypothetical situation or hope.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vanessa Suzuki on Mon, 09/11/2020 - 13:32

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Thank you very much for this exercise. Helped me a lot.

Submitted by aymanme2 on Wed, 28/10/2020 - 23:39

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Which is the right answer? I wish sports cars [weren't _ wouldn't be] expensive.

Hello aymanme2,

'weren't' is the correct answer here -- it expresses an unreal situation. It's 'unreal' because it's not real, that is, sports cars are in fact expensive.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again, Mr and thank you so much. I do have another question I came across: I wish mum.........(hadn't whistled // didn't whistle) while she was doing the washing up. I think the answer is 'hadn't whistled' as it expresses a wish of a past action. Mom whistled while she was doing the washing up. However, I think if the sentence was "I wish mom WOULDN'T WHISTLE / DIDN'T WHISTLE ___while SHE IS doing the washing up", it would be fine to express a present wish for a present habit r action. Am I right?

Hello aymanme2,

Yes, that's correct. Well done! It looks as if you understand this very well.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by emmanuelniyomugabo12 on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 18:24

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That's very good to be with you

Submitted by Heartnette on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 05:41

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Hi admin, Is it possible that the first question in Test 1 can be answered with "wouldn't have to"? I wish I _____ go to work tomorrow. wouldn't have to didn't have to hadn't had to It's a bit confusing why the correct one is "didn't have to" instead of "wouldn't have to", or can we use both? Thank you for your time. Much appreciate.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 09:38

In reply to by Heartnette

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Hi Heartnette,

No, we would not use 'wouldn't have to' in this context.

The reason is that didn't have to describes a fact which we cannot control. Wouldn't describes a choice here, so it does not go with have to, which describes an obligation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafaela1 on Thu, 03/09/2020 - 13:07

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I wish highway fare would be free. The government once promised that they would leave toll fare for free in the future.

Submitted by MarcosPermin on Wed, 02/09/2020 - 18:37

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Hi team, I have a question. How can I say that I had a wish yesterday (in the past)?

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 03/09/2020 - 07:56

In reply to by MarcosPermin

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Hi MarcosPermin,

Wish is a regular verb, so you can simply use the past simple:

I wish I had a better job. [a wish in the present]

Last year, I wished I had a better job. [a wish in the past which is no longer true]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by batnyam on Mon, 24/08/2020 - 23:48

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Hello! MR.KIRK. I have a questions that i want to ask... What is the difference between " i wish+ i had PP and I wish+Simple past ?. For example: -I wish i lived closer to my family -i wish i had lived closer to my family Could i use the simple past and the Past perfect to describe the same situations? Sincerely B.Batnyam

Hello B. Batnayam,

Both sentences describe imaginary situations. Often in English, when we talk about imaginary or counter-factual situations, we move the verb form one step into the past. Thus, to talk about an imaginary present we use wish + past simple. To talk about an imaginary past, we use wish + past perfect.

 

For example:

I wish I lived closer to my family.

[this sentence is about the present; the speaker does not live close to his or her family]

I wish I had lived closer to my family.

[this sentence is about the past; the speaker did not live close to his or her family then, but this may not be true now]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bebers1 on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 15:08

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hello, Grammar test1:I came across that question, If only he ___ here now, he'd know what to do the correct option is "were" I don't get it. Isn't supposed to be "Was" your feedback is Highly Appreciated

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 23/08/2020 - 08:16

In reply to by bebers1

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Hello bebers1,

Both 'was' and 'were' (without capital letters) are possible here.

The form 'were' is a subjunctive form which used to be more common in English. Nowadays the present simple if more often used, but the subjunctive is still used with the verb 'be'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team