'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

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Average: 4 (4 votes)

Submitted by Zynah1 on Sun, 18/09/2022 - 10:05

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Hi
What is the difference between these two sentences?

"I wish we could have made some nice poses for the photographs.'
"I wish we had made some nice poses for the photographs."

Hello Zynah1,

The first sentence suggests that something made it impossible for us to make some nice poses. The second one merely laments that we didn't make some nice poses; it doesn't indicate whether we chose not to or whether something stopped us from doing it.

So the first sentence is more specific.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AndreaBuzz on Sat, 10/09/2022 - 06:39

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Hi,
in the grammar test 1-3: "He wishes _____ the kitchen in such a mess. He always has to clean before he cooks", the correct answer is "they wouldn't leave". If I understand, it uses "would" as "would" can also be considered the past form of "will", is it correct?
My question is, why can't I use directlly the past form of leave?
In this way: "He wishes didn't leave the kitchen in such a mess. He always has to clean before he cooks".
Which is the difference?
The same happen in test 1-6:"I wish people wouldn't play loud music on the train. What's wrong with using headphones?!"
Thanks a lot for your answer.

Hello AndreaBuzz,

You can use the past form in both question 3 and question 8 (Grammar test 1). In other words, both 'He wishes they didn't leave the kitchen ...' and 'I wish people didn't play loud music ...' are grammatically correct. In the context of Grammar test 1, which is a multiple choice exercise, they aren't options of course, but they are grammatically correct.

The difference between the versions with 'would' ('He wishes they wouldn't leave the kitchen ...') and the versions with a past form ('He wishes they didn't leave the kitchen') is a subtle one. The past forms simply show that we wish the situation were different; the forms with 'would' show that we wish the situation were different and show that we are annoyed with people's lack of consideration or unwillingness to change.

So the forms with 'would' have one more layer of meaning to them than the past simple ones do, but this doesn't mean the past simple ones are incorrect.

Hope that clears it up for you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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Hi
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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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Hi,
in the grammar test 2-6:
"If only I _____ the time off work, I'd come and visit you.
could take
would take
took",
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.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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This is a really helpful site.