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 (75 votes)

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

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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 ?
examples
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 ?
example
I wish he came tomorrow
I wish he enjoyed with me tomorrow
I wish tomorrow was holiday

Hi HLH,

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.

Jonathan

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 ?
example
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,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

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

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Hi,
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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by olisristeski on Thu, 28/12/2023 - 20:19

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If only I _____ that to her. She's not speaking to me now.
Can we use "Didn't say" instead hadn't said. I mean to use past simple because we are speaking for now, to change something now

Hello olisristeski,

No, a past perfect is needed here. The saying happened in the past, and as the information on the page says, we use "wish/if only + a past perfect form to talk about something we would like to change about the past."

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by olisristeski on Fri, 22/12/2023 - 18:51

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I'm so tired. I wish I had gone home earlier last night. This is correct answer and according to the rule we suppose to talk about the past
Why we can't use I Wish I went home earlier last night. We are talking about the present, are we? I understand as we are speaking in the present.

Hello olisristeski,

In your sentence the wishing is in the present but the going is in the past (specifically, last night), so it is a wish about the past. Therefore, the past perfect is appropriate.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team