'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

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.
Average: 1 (1 vote)

Submitted by TechnoBlade_Ne… on Mon, 18/07/2022 - 13:51

Permalink

Hi, May I ask a question?
In Grammar test 1, We've the the correct answer of number 3 is ''would ...'', but number 4 is "had met'' and those two are in the same structure S+wishes... . Can you please explain why?

Hi TechnoBlade_Never_Die,

It's because the timeframe is different. Question 3 is about the present, i.e. it's something that happens generally and regularly. It also expresses annoyance, which is typical of the phrase I wish you/he/she would(n't). On the other hand, question 4 is about a single event in the past, and there's no indication that this is something the speaker considers annoying.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maryam Guliyeva on Wed, 06/07/2022 - 15:04

Permalink

Hello everyone! I'm confused in Grammar Test 2 ex 6.
If only I _____ the time off work, I'd come and visit you.
-could take
-would take
-took
My answer was "took", but the right one is "could take". Could anyone explain to me the reason of this choice please.
Thank you, Maryam.

Hello Maryam,

When someone says 'If only I could take time off work, I'd come and visit you', they are talking about the present and saying that they want to take time off work to visit you, but that they are not able to take time off right now. The verb 'could' is important in the gap because it expresses this idea of not being able. The important point is that you aren't able to take time off, not that you haven't taken time off.

Another possible sentence is 'If only I had taken time off work, I'd come and visit you'. This is not an option in the exercise, but it expresses the idea that if the speaker had planned their leave better in the past, they would not have to work right now in the present and so could go and visit you.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bridge23d on Tue, 07/06/2022 - 10:45

Permalink

If only I hadn't lost her phone number. She must think I'm so rude for not calling her.
Please let me know whether following sentences can be also used replacing above one or there is any difference?
1. If only I hadn't lost her phone number. She must have been thinking I'm so rude for not calling her.
2. If only I hadn't lost her phone number. She must be thinking I'm so rude for not calling her.

Hi bridge23d,

Their meanings are slightly different. In sentence 1, "must have been thinking" (present perfect continuous) refers to some time before the present moment, and the continuous aspect emphasises the duration of the activity (thinking). So, it might be used in a context like this: "If only I hadn't lost her phone number. I promised her that I'd call her sometime yesterday. She must have been thinking I'm so rude for not calling her." (Here, "must have been thinking" refers to "yesterday", and we understand that her "thinking" went on for some time yesterday.)

In sentence 2, "must be thinking" is in the present continuous, indicating that the action is ongoing at the present moment (i.e., the moment of speaking). Perhaps she is expecting the phone call right now, for example.

In the original sentence, "think" in the present simple shows a general attitude, not necessarily what she is thinking at the present moment.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ulk on Mon, 30/05/2022 - 22:32

Permalink

Hello. My question concerns Wish + Would speaking about other person's actions. I s it always only about annoyance? Can i say' I wish she would come' expressing just my desire to see her + ( = I want her to come) Or in the latter case I should only say ' I wish she came or I wish she were there ' Thank you

Hello Ulk,

Wish + would is often used to express disapproval but it can be used in other ways, as you say. Note, however, that it expresses regret of some kind rather than hope or expectation. Thus, if you say 'I wish she would come' you do not believe that she will, whereas if you say 'I hope she comes' you still have some hope.

'I wish she were there' has a different meaning. It describes a present situation which is not true, as in 'I wish I were a millionaire'.

'I wish she came' is not correct as it refers to a past event (she didn't come). You would need to use the past perfect in this case: 'I wish she had come'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Peter
But I’m a little bit confused now )
Am I right in thinking that I can use Would in 2 cases : when I’m annoyed with her – I wish she would come and also when I regret about the situation ( for ex. I know that it’s unlikely that she’ll come ) – I wish she would come - and since the grammar is the same it’s only me who knows what meaning is implied?
Secondly, my phrase ‘ I wish she came’ was meant for the present , the same as in the explanation on this page above: We can use wish/if only + a past form to talk about a present situation we would like to be different. ( ex. I wish I lived closer to my family ). In my understanding it also has a similar meaning with your example about a millionaire :
I wish I were a millionaire ( past simple) = I’m not a millionaire, I regret it and I want a change
I wish she came ( past simple ) = She is not going to come , I regret that she isn’t here now and I want a change . To me it’s the same as 'I wish she were here' but with a different verb .
Where am I wrong?