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 (32 votes)
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Hello AndreaBuzz,

When we are talking about imagined, wished for or unlikely situations, we often shift the verb form back in time. For example, the present changes to the past simple, and the past changes to the past perfect. The tense change suggests a distance from reality. English teachers often call this different time 'unreal'.

Your first sentence is OK, but I'd suggest saying 'hadn't invited' because you presumably invited people before today -- that is, the action of inviting people was a past action. When we speak with regret about a past action, we typically use the past perfect.

It's great to see you thinking carefully about the tenses -- I can see this in your point about a connection between the past and the present. But when we're speaking about wishes or 'unreal' time, the normal rules don't apply.

I hope that helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RaulCaldas on Thu, 06/10/2022 - 20:14


Hi, i have a doubt in this sentence:
-if only he were here now. He´d know what to do.
Shouldn´t be he was here now?
Thank you.

Hello RaulCaldas,

In if-clauses using the past simple both 'was' and 'were' can be used for the first and third person:

If I was... OR If I were...

If he/she/it was OR If he/she/it were

'Were' is perhaps slightly more traditional and 'was' used to be considered a mistake. However, in modern English both are used and accepted.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by EuK on Sat, 01/10/2022 - 16:15


Hi! It's pretty clear how to use this structure to talk about situations in the present and the past, thanks for the article! My question how do we express the same idea about the future? I'm a bit confused here. There are some elements of potential future situations when we use 'I wish/If only + would' but these are special situations, that we don't really think will happen. Got this from the replies to the comments - tell me if I'm wrong. But what about general situations in the future? For example there is a sentence in my students book: 'If only the weather were nice on Sunday!'. Is it correct? Why can't we say then: 'If only she came tomorrow!'? Could you clarify how we speak about situations in the future.

Hi EuK,

I think you can probably find examples of if only with a specific future reference but I would hesitate to say they are standard use. I can't think of any examples which sound natural to my ear. We can use if only + will with future meaning, however. It's a way of anthropomorphising inanimate objects - giving them will even when they don't have it. The weather is a good example:

If only the rain will hold off on Sunday, we'll be able to have the party outside.

When the speaker sees the situation as unlikely then the past form can be used:

If only the rain would hold off on Sunday, we'd be able to have the party outside.



The LearnEnglish Team

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


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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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


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.