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)
Profile picture for user Libra23

Submitted by Libra23 on Tue, 18/06/2024 - 16:27


Dear Kirk, Peter or Jonathan 


I have a doubt and I hope you can help me:

The followed sentences are both correct, aren’t they?

1 If only I knew what doing 

2 If only I had known what doing 


In the first one, we talk about a present situation, right?

Instead, in the last one, we talk about a state concluded in the past. 

The use of if only/wish + Past Perfect shows us like a sensation of regret, because we would have done something different in the past. Is it true?


My last doubt: I don’t understand if we have to use wish+would/wouldn’t only to talk about present situations. 


Thanks for your marvellous work.

Hello Libra23,

No, those sentences are not correct. First of all, after 'If only...' we shift the tense back so a past form describes the present and a past perfect form describes the past:

If only I knew... [present situation]

If only I had known... [past situation]


Next, after 'what' you need a clause, not just an -ing form:

If only I had known what I was doing.


Wish + would describes something we don't like about the present. It is used when there is a choice involved:

I wish he wouldn't talk so loudly on the phone. [he talks loudly and I don't like it]


We don't use 'wish' to talk about the future. Instead, we use 'hope' or 'believe':

I hope he stops talking so loudly on the phone.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,


The difference between wish/if only + past tense and wish + would/wouldn’t is that in the last one there’s “a choice involved”, isn’t it? So, if I say: 

I wish he would eat more healthy ——> I think he can change his life style 

I wish he ate more healthy ——> I don’t think there’s any choice 


Could you add more examples about hope/believe to talk about the future



Hello Libra23,

Almost! The first sentence involves choice in the sense that it is his decision - he can choose to eat more healthily or not.

The second sentence is just a statement of what you would like to be different. It doesn't tell us if the change would be because of a decision, a change in the world, dumb luck or anything else.

In other words, we only use would in this context when there is a choice or a decision involved. We can can the past form in any situation we would like to be different.


I wish she didn't phone me at weekends. [the fact this happens annoys me]

I wish she would stop phoning me at weekends. [she can choose to stop]

I wish it wasn't so cold. [I don't like this temperature]

But we can't say:

I wish it wouldn't be so cold. [not possible because the weather is a system, not something that can make decisions]



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by HLH on Mon, 05/02/2024 - 09:59


Hi Jonathan,
Is this correct ?
1- The simple past could be in the present or future tense
About the present
# could be the same meaning the simple present tense Or now OR just the meaning about now with stative verbs ?
I wish I spoke Italian (mean now or the same meaning the simple present tense )
I wish I was taller (mean now )
I wish it didn't rain so much (mean now or the same meaning the simple present tense )

About the future
2- can I use any verb or just with stative verbs ?
I wish he came tomorrow
I wish he enjoyed with me tomorrow
I wish tomorrow was holiday


1. I'm afraid I don't quite understand the questions. "Simple past" and "tense" are the names of grammar structures. The simple past cannot be the present or future tense, but the simple past can have a present or future meaning.

Yes, the three examples here do mean "now". Their meaning is about the present (precisely, an unreal or imagined present), but that does not mean they are the same as the simple present tense. 

2. Yes, you can use "I wish" with non-stative verbs too. "I wish he came tomorrow" is fine, but "I wish he would come tomorrow" may sound more natural.

The second example isn't right because the verb "enjoy" needs an object (e.g. "enjoyed himself"). It would sound more natural to say something like "I wish he could come to (hang out) with me tomorrow".

The third example is good but should be: "I wish tomorrow was a holiday".

I hope that helps.


Hi Jonathan
1 - Is this correct
The simple past has two meanings could be right now or could be repeatedly or regularly but it would be better to use the past continuous to talk about right now ?
I wish it didn’t rain heavily in London ( mean repeatedly or regularly )

and Both express right now
I wish it didn’t rain heavily so that I could go out ( mean right now )
I wish it wasn't raining heavily so that I could go out ( mean right now )

Hello HLH,

The past simple actually has many more meanings than simply two. I don't think you were really asking this, but I wanted to make this point just in case I'm wrong.

1) 'I wish that it didn't rain heavily in London' is indeed talking about a regular phenomenon. When someone says this, it could be that it is raining at the moment, or it could be that it's a sunny day. It's a statement about the general present, about what often happens or happens regularly.

2) 'I wish it didn't rain heavily so that I could go out' has the same kind of meaning as 1. If it's raining at the time of speaking, 'I could go out' could refer to right now, but the 'I wish' clause doesn't refer to right now -- it has the meaning of 1.

3) Yes, this refers to right now.

This is in parallel with how we use the present simple and the present continuous to talk about the weather. If there is rain when we're speaking, we say 'It's raining' (not 'It rains').

Best wishes,
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Annap89 on Wed, 24/01/2024 - 20:49


I was wondering why people keep saying/posting stuff like: "Things I wish I knew when I was in my twenties". It refers to the past, shouldn't it be "...I wish I'd known..."? Is it in any way acceptable to use past simple form when talking about past after I wish/If only or is it simply a mistake? Thanks, Anna

Hi Annap89,

Strictly, 'were' is not correct here, but people often use non-standard forms like this in everyday speech.



The LearnEnglish Team