'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

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Average: 3.7 (3 votes)

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)?
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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
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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

Submitted by Inci Ozturk on Mon, 20/07/2020 - 04:59

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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,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Inci Ozturk on Mon, 20/07/2020 - 04:51

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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,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team