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 again Ulk,

Your summary is correct. A sentence like 'I wish she would come' can have more than one meaning depending on the context. However, the choice of a positive or negative verb gives a clue.

We generally use a negative form to express annoyance at typical behaviour:

I wish you wouldn't smoke in the car. It's horrible!

A positive verb is more common when talking about a single choice which we think is still possible, though unlikely, rather than typical behaviour:

I wish he'd come to the party.

I wish they'd sign the contract.


To your second point, the problem here is the context. The speaker is at the party so 'come' describes an action in the past which we only know is true when the other person arrives. Thus the options are as follows:

I wish she were here. [the present I would like]

I wish she had come. [the past I would like so that the present I would like is true]

I wish she would come. [a hypothetical future - the decision is not yet taken]




The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Peter,
Considering your answer, am I right this time?

- She doesn’t understand the wish structure - I wish she understood the wish structure ( now ) – Past simple tense , my regret about the present, the same as in ‘ I wish I lived closer to my family’

- She doesn’t understand the wish structure.- I wish she would understand ( one day ) the wish structure . - Would, a hypothetical future, I don’t consider the present situation, I only think about the future which is rather unlikely

- I hope she understands the wish structure ( one day) - I’m sure she’s not that bad, she can do it ;)

- In case of the incorrect ‘I wish she came’ , speaking about now, the choice of the verb is wrong , because come refers only to the future, it’s not about the present, she’s not here now. In this case we should pick the verb BE to be correct- I wish she were here – I regret that she’s not here now

Hello again,

Those are almost all correct - well done. The only one that doesn't really work is the second one [I wish she would understand (one day) the wish structure]. The problem is that this use of 'would' implies a choice, and 'understand' is not something we make a choice about but rather something that we try to achieve and either do or do not. If the context included a choice then you could use 'would' like this:

I wish she would accept the job, but I don't think she will.

When you think about it, these sentences are as much if not more about the present than the future, as they really describe how we see the current situation (right now it's unlikely) rather than purely the future.

Where no choice is present I think 'hope' is the best choice used with a rider to show our doubts:

I hope she understands the wish structure one day, but I don't think it's very likely.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abhay on Sun, 01/05/2022 - 16:27


Hello sir,
I was reading the novel "THE JUNGLE BOOK"
and following are a few lines of it.

MY DOUBT: My question is about the usage of 'ONLY' in following passage.
Sir , is it possible that after the word 'only' the word 'NO'(as a determiner) can be used?
In following passage 'NO' is used in this manner. Please clarify.

Thanking you.

PASSAGE: “By Red Flower Bagheera meant fire, ONLY no creature in the jungle will call fire by its proper name.

Every beast lives in deadly fear of it, and invents a hundred ways of describing it. "The Red Flower?" said Mowgli. "That grows outside their huts in the twilight.”

Submitted by ninaals on Tue, 22/02/2022 - 17:36


Lucky me, since i'm always regretting things about the past in my head, I almost know how to use I wish and if only by heart.

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

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,


The LearnEnglish Team

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

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...