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 AlexKat_,

1) It's possible to say both (a) 'If only the borders would open now' and (b) 'If only the borders were open now'.

(b) is probably more common and refers to the state of the borders (in other words, whether they are open or closed); it means that the borders are not open, but that we think it would be better if they were open.

(a) means the borders are not open and we want them to open now. It refers to the action of opening the borders, not so much to the state of the borders.

2) We use the past after 'it's about time', so only 'It's about time you started living on your own' is correct.

Best wishes,
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by AlexKat_ on Fri, 27/10/2023 - 10:52


Is it possible to use 'wish' with 'could' to talk about things in the present or future that we would like to be different?
For example, I wish i could get a better job, but I haven`t got enough experience.

I wish i could help you or I wish I helped you. I wish I could be a star or I wish I was/were a star etc. Which one is correct or both variants are possible?

Is it okay to use "was" instead of "were" in spoken English?
I wish you was here/I wish I was special etc?

Hi AlexKat_,

Yes, we can use "wish" with "could" in that way. In those examples, "could" is needed in the sentence. The idea is that although the person wants to do that thing, they cannot do it. There is something preventing them from doing it (e.g. I haven't got enough experience). 

It doesn't make sense to say I wish I helped you because the action of "helping you" is, we would normally assume, something that is really possible and not just an imaginary or hypothetical action. So it would be usual to add "could" to show that I wanted to help you, but I was not able to do it or it was impossible to do it (for some reason).

Both I wish I could be a star and I wish I was/were a star are grammatical and fine. The first sentence includes the meaning of (not) having the ability or possibility to be a star. The second one does not, and is just about the status of being a star (or not). Unlike the "helping you" example, being a star is something that is not normally considered easy or possible. So it's fine to say I wish I was/were a star without adding "could" because we already understand that this is an imaginary or hypothetical situation. You can still add "could" to emphasise the lack of ability or possibility to be a star, but it's not necessary to add it.

In this structure, you can use "were" for all persons (I wish I were ... / I wish you were ... etc.). You can also use "was", but only with "I" and "he / she / it". This it true for both spoken and written English. Some people do use it with other persons (e.g. I wish you was ...) but this is normally considered ungrammatical.

I hope that helps!


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by AlexKat_ on Fri, 27/10/2023 - 10:44


Could you please help me to clarify these rules.

I checked several grammar books and there were different explanations, so I got confused.

For example, which one is correct or both varinats are possible?
I wish I divorced him now or I wish i could divorce him now.
Both sentences are about the wiligness to change the present situation, but probabaly are not possible now.

Also I have a question regarding the wish/if only + would (not) +V1 construction. It is usually used when we are dissatisfied with sm`s behavior or actions and want them to change it, right? So it is about possible changes?

I also saw in a grammar book, that we can use it if we want sth to happen now or soon.
For example, I wish our bus would come. I`m cold!
or when we talk about the weather --- I wish it would stop raining!

Hi AlexKat_,

For your first question, I wish I could divorce him now is the right option. The intended meaning seems to be about having the ability or possibility to do so, so could is needed in the sentence.

Yes, that's right about the use of wish (somebody) would + verb. But this meaning can be extended to non-human things that we want to change, especially something that displays some kind of "behaviour" (e.g. the bus coming, or the rain stopping).

I hope that helps!


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by HLH on Tue, 26/09/2023 - 12:48


can I use both when I talk about past and What is the difference ?
I hoped she passed the exam
I wish she had passed the exam

Hello HLH,

Both sentences are possible.

In the first sentence (with 'hope') she has taken the exam but you don't know the result yet and are waiting to find out.

In the second sentence (with 'wish') she has also already taken the exam and you know that she did not pass, You are feeling regret or sadness about this fact.


The second sentence is about a known past; the first is about an as-yet unknown result which you will presumably find out in the future.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter
I hope she passed the exam
I hoped she passed the exam

1-Both sentences I do not know the result ?

2- if I do not know the result I will use
I hope she passed the exam
I hoped she passed the exam

if I know the result I will use
I wish she had passed the exam
I wished she had passed the exam?

3- What's the difference between them
I hope she passed the exam
I hoped she passed the exam?

Hello again HLH,

It's a little hard to comment without some context for these sentences but I'll try.

The only change in these sentences is in when you felt the hope. In the first sentence you still hope now and therefore do not know the result. In the second we only know that you hoped in the past. We don't know if you later learned the result or not. You could say, for example, 'I hoped she passed the exam, but I never heard from her again so I never found out', but you could also say 'I hoped she passed the exam and I was pleased to find out later that she had!'.

If you did find out the result and she did not pass then the past perfect would be used as a way to show that the hope ended: 'I had hoped she passed the exam but unfortunately she didn't'.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by thebaongoc on Sun, 24/09/2023 - 05:03


Hello. Can you help me, please ?
Can i say: '' she wishes you felt better'' or '' she wishes you would feel better''. And why?