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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Profile picture for user Peter M.

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

In reply to by Dante2021


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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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

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.
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

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

In reply to by Maahir


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,


The LearnEnglish Team

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

Hallo Can I say " I wish you come with us today " it is about a present situation with present tense
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

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

In reply to by MohammedAhmed


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,


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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,


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,


The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user aymanme2

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

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.