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: 4.2 (85 votes)

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,


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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

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

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

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

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.
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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.
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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