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 (84 votes)

Submitted by ryanzol on Wed, 07/09/2022 - 05:13


There is a question:
1. He wishes he ____ back in time and visit Ancient Rome.
(the correct answer is 'could travel')
2. If only I _____ the time off work, I'd come and visit you.
(the correct answer is 'could take')

Above questions are talking about 'someone would like to change the present situation. According to the explanation, the answer should be 'simple past tense', but the correct answer is 'could + present tense'

I wonder if 'could + present tense' is equal to 'simple past tense'?

Thanks for answering

Have a good day.

Hello again ryanzol,

Yes, 'could' is effectively the past form of 'can'. It is also a modal verb, and modal verbs are typically followed by a verb in the base form (also called a 'bare infinitive' or 'infinitive without 'to'' -- it's the form you look up in the dictionary).

It's true that the base form is also used in some present simple forms, but please note that it's important to learn that 'could' is followed by a base form (not by the present simple).

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AndreaBuzz on Tue, 30/08/2022 - 09:59


in the grammar test 2-6:
"If only I _____ the time off work, I'd come and visit you.
could take
would take
I answered erroneously with the last option, that is TOOK. I also read the Kirk's answer to Maryam and it is clear to me. But I still have a doubt.
In the grammar, two cases are only discussed: the past form and the past perfect form. It is not completely true if I can also use the form "subject + could + infinitive ...". Please, You can clarify me this.
Thanks a lot.

Hi AndreaBuzz,

Good question! Actually, "could" is the past form of "can", so it's included in the first case: In the present (expressed by wish/if only + a past form). Phrases starting "If only I could ... (+ verb)" are fairly common to express wishes and regrets.

Another example is given above: He wishes he could afford a holiday.

I hope that helps to make sense of it.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Essam Wahba on Sun, 31/07/2022 - 19:31


This is a really helpful site.

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


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.


The LearnEnglish Team

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


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
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,
The LearnEnglish Team