'wish' and 'if only'

Do you know how to use wish and if only to talk about things you would like to change?

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

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Language level

B2 English level (upper intermediate)

Hello Farhad,

Yes, this is correct. When 'be' follows the word 'if' or the verb 'wish', it is grammatically correct to say things like 'if I were', 'I wish he were', 'she wishes she were' and 'if it were'. When we use the past simple in this way, we aren't speaking about the past, but rather about a hypothetical situation or hope.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello aymanme2,

'weren't' is the correct answer here -- it expresses an unreal situation. It's 'unreal' because it's not real, that is, sports cars are in fact expensive.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again, Mr and thank you so much. I do have another question I came across: I wish mum.........(hadn't whistled // didn't whistle) while she was doing the washing up. I think the answer is 'hadn't whistled' as it expresses a wish of a past action. Mom whistled while she was doing the washing up. However, I think if the sentence was "I wish mom WOULDN'T WHISTLE / DIDN'T WHISTLE ___while SHE IS doing the washing up", it would be fine to express a present wish for a present habit r action. Am I right?
Hi admin, Is it possible that the first question in Test 1 can be answered with "wouldn't have to"? I wish I _____ go to work tomorrow. wouldn't have to didn't have to hadn't had to It's a bit confusing why the correct one is "didn't have to" instead of "wouldn't have to", or can we use both? Thank you for your time. Much appreciate.

Hi Heartnette,

No, we would not use 'wouldn't have to' in this context.

The reason is that didn't have to describes a fact which we cannot control. Wouldn't describes a choice here, so it does not go with have to, which describes an obligation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I wish highway fare would be free. The government once promised that they would leave toll fare for free in the future.
Hi team, I have a question. How can I say that I had a wish yesterday (in the past)?

Hi MarcosPermin,

Wish is a regular verb, so you can simply use the past simple:

I wish I had a better job. [a wish in the present]

Last year, I wished I had a better job. [a wish in the past which is no longer true]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! MR.KIRK. I have a questions that i want to ask... What is the difference between " i wish+ i had PP and I wish+Simple past ?. For example: -I wish i lived closer to my family -i wish i had lived closer to my family Could i use the simple past and the Past perfect to describe the same situations? Sincerely B.Batnyam

Hello B. Batnayam,

Both sentences describe imaginary situations. Often in English, when we talk about imaginary or counter-factual situations, we move the verb form one step into the past. Thus, to talk about an imaginary present we use wish + past simple. To talk about an imaginary past, we use wish + past perfect.

 

For example:

I wish I lived closer to my family.

[this sentence is about the present; the speaker does not live close to his or her family]

I wish I had lived closer to my family.

[this sentence is about the past; the speaker did not live close to his or her family then, but this may not be true now]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello, Grammar test1:I came across that question, If only he ___ here now, he'd know what to do the correct option is "were" I don't get it. Isn't supposed to be "Was" your feedback is Highly Appreciated

Hello bebers1,

Both 'was' and 'were' (without capital letters) are possible here.

The form 'were' is a subjunctive form which used to be more common in English. Nowadays the present simple if more often used, but the subjunctive is still used with the verb 'be'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

In my opinion the answer of question 2 must be "He wishes he would travel back in time and visit Ancient Rome." because there is no possibility to go back in time to Ancient Rome. It's a kind of feeling which is unlikely.

Hello Inci Ozturk,

You're right in thinking that 'could' can be used to speak about possibility, but it is also used to speak about ability, and that is the meaning here.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Is it okay to use "could" in the first part of the sentence in which "if only" used?

Hello again Inci Ozturk,

You can use 'could' after 'if only', e.g. 'If only I could travel! I'd really like to go and visit my family', but I'm not sure if that's what you mean.

Could you give an example? It's difficult to give a general rule without knowing precisely what you mean.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I wish I hadn't read the rules . If only I had read them more carefully, I wouldn't have made many mistakes. I wish I had such results.
Hi! Thanks for the information it was really useful. I just want to know whether i can use both “didn’t rain” and “wouldn’t rain” in the following sentence: We are having such a lovely time in Scotland. If only it ____ all the time, though!

Hello Gayane Dayan,

Yes, you can use either form in that sentence.

Didn't rain expresses a counter-factual idea (it does rain > I wish it didn't/if only it didn't).

Wouldn't rain is an example of anthropomorphism. It implies that the weather has a will of its own and has decided to rain. This is similar to sentences like My computer won't work, where won't means something like refuses to.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello is there anyone who could explain to me why in this sentence , it's not: I'm starving. If only there were a restaurant open now rather than I'm starving. If only there was a restaurant open now. Thanks a lot for your response

Hello Birgit17

You could also say 'If only there were a restaurant open now' -- that is also correct and means the same thing. You can use 'was' or 'were' for all subjects in statements about wishes or imaginary situations (e.g. 'If I were you, I wouldn't do that').

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello khalid Ibrahim

It's sometimes a little tricky to see, but in our exercises, the speaker says something to express their annoyance. Look, for example, at the first three sentences of Task 2:

  1. If only they _____ you for advice before they started the project. You're the expert!
  2. He wishes he ____ back in time and visit Ancient Rome.
  3. I wish she _____ her shoes there. I'm always falling over them.

In 1, since they say 'before they started the project', it's clearly a past time. It's possible the speaker is annoyed, but since they're talking about a past event, 'would ask' is not grammatically correct. The only possibility is 'had asked'.

In 2, there is no expression of annoyance, so 'would travel' doesn't make any sense; 'could travel' is the answer.

In 3, 'I'm always falling over them' expresses annoyance with something that happens repeatedly, therefore 'wouldn't leave' is the correct answer.

I hope this helps. If you have any further questions, we're happy to help, but please tell us which specific question you are confused about and tell us what you think the correct answer is.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Can anyone help me with this exercise? I don't really understand how I'm supposed to do it.. Please and thank you! Express a wish or regret about these facts. Use the words in brackets. 1. I don’t speak English fluently. (wish) 2. You speak very fast. I don’t understand. (If) 3. I’m an only child. (wish) 4. We don’t have enough money for a holiday. (If only) 5. I get up at six o’clock every morning. I have to go to work. (wouldn’t/if) 6. I didn’t learn to ski until I was forty. I’m not very good. (If) 7. My 13 year old sister wants to be older. (she wishes) 8. My best friend always borrows my things without asking (I'd rather) 9. I don't know anything about computers. I can't help you. (If) 10. We want to have a break. (It's time)

Hello Justme,

I'm afraid we don't provide help of this sort. We're a small team here and we try to provide as much help as we can for users with questions about the English language, but we can't help with homework or tests from elsewhere.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk, sorry but I have difficulty learning and understand how and when I use the time ( past participle, past simple, future, ...) where can I study these and improve the use? thank you

Hi ilnicholas87,

That's a very big topic.

One thing that's important to remember is that time (when an action happens) and tense (forms of the verb) are not the same thing. We can use past tense, for example, to talk about the present or even the future.

It's also important to remember that time is not the only important element of a verb's meaning. Aspect, which deals with things like whether an action is permanent or temporary, finished or unfinished, repeated or singular and so on, is also very important.

 

The grammar pages on LearnEnglish have a section on verbs. You can find it here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/verbs

On the right you'll see links to different aspects of the verb system. The pages on talking about the past, present and future would be a good place to start, I think.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I wish she _____ her shoes there. I'm always falling over them. How am I supposed know that he/she is annoyed. The traffic on the roads was terrible. I wish we _____ the train instead! In this it seems like they are annoyed but they are not, why? And How am I supposed to know that they are annoyed or not? I have read the above rules but I want more explanation as it is so confusing. Kindly clear my doubts.

Hello ltspb008

In the first question you ask about, the sentence 'I'm always falling over them' indicates that the speaker isn't happy about the woman leaving her shoes in that place. It also tells us that it's a regular occurrence. So the only answer that is grammatically correct and which fits the situation is 'wouldn't leave'.

In the second question, the first sentence ('The traffic on the roads was terrible.') indicates a past context. The answer 'had caught' refers to an imaginary past and is the only answer that makes sense grammatically here.

Hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teacher/ administrator: I´m meeting the verb construction "I wish I would(n´t) have + past participle" in some real texts. Is this supposed to express annoyance with what someone or something did or didn´t do? If not, is this a native incorrect usage or maybe a regionalism? Thank you very much for your response in advance.

Hello caroluska,

I would say that this is a non-standard form. If the action was performed and we are not happy about that fact then the normal way to express it is wish + past perfect - I wish I hadn't done that.

In some dialects and social groups non-standard forms become common, so you may have come across it for that reason.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir, For the following question, is not it talking about the present and hence we should use " bought" instead of " had bought"? Q: It looks like rain. I wish I ____ my umbrella. would have brought had brought brought Best regards

Hi wycam10,

The key here is the verb bring. The act of bringing (or not bringing) is a past act; the act of having (or not having) is the present result of that action. Thus, we use a past perfect form for bring but would use a past form for have:

I wish I had brought my umbrella.

I wish I had my umbrella with me.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Admin, Referring to the question below, why " were " is used after "he" instead of "was"? Q: If only he _____ here now. He'd know what to do. A: were Thanks.

Hello wcyam10

When we speak about an unreal or hypothetical situation, we use a past verb form, even though we are speaking about the present.

When we use the past simple of the verb 'be' to express this kind of meaning, it's acceptable to use 'were' with any person, that is, not only with 'you', 'we' and 'they', but also with 'I' and 'she/he/it'. (It's also correct to use 'was' with 'I' and 'she/he/it'.)

This has to do with older forms of English which still linger in the way we speak it nowadays.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team