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'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

Language level

Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

Hello, great lesson. However, I have a question: Imagine this situation: "I have got a splitting headache" and one of the hypothetical forms that I could say is: "I wish I didn't have a splitting headache", but could I say: "I wish I wouldn't have a splitting headache" or "If only I wouldn't have a splitting headache" instead of the first option?

Hello GiulianaAndy,

No, I'm afraid it wouldn't be correct to say 'I wish I wouldn't have a headache' or 'If only I wouldn't have a headache' in this case.

The subject of the verb 'have' in the sentence is 'I', not the headache, and it doesn't really express the idea of willingness or unwillingness. 

It's unusual (though not impossible) to say 'I wish I would' because we don't usually express wishes about our own behavior -- this is because, in theory at least, we are in control of our behavior and therefore don't have to make wishes about it. We wish for things that we're not completely in control of.

It's when we feel we aren't in complete control that we could use this 'I wish I would' structure. For example, if I say 'I wish I would stop smoking', it suggests that I don't think I am in complete control, perhaps because I'm addicted to nicotine.

It's possible to say 'I wish I stopped smoking', but that is odd because by doing that I'm talking about myself as an object. People don't normally use this grammar to speak about themselves in this way.

I hope this helps you make sense of the grammar.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, sirs,
I read in so many sources that it is incorrect to use 'wish + subject + would' when the subject of the two verbs is the same as in 'I wish I would (do)'. However, I sometimes find it difficult to avoid using this pattern as in the following examples:
1) I wish I wouldn't have to work tomorrow. (Or should it be 'I wish I didn't have to work tomorrow.'?
2) My brother wishes he would get his driving licence next Monday. (Or should it be 'My brother wishes he could get his driving licence next Monday.'?
3) I wish my son [would / could] join the faculty of medicine.
Is there anyway that these examples could work?
Please, provide me with detailed explanation concerning when and when not to use 'Subject a + wishes + subject a + would do...

Hello aymanme2,

Most of the time, we don't use 'would' in the clause after 'wish' when the subject of both clauses is the same. In the first situation you describe, instead you should say 'didn't have to work' (just as you suggest).

In the second situation, you could say 'could', but, unless I've misunderstood, it sounds to me as if a sentence with 'hope' might be more appropriate. We use 'wish' when we regard the outcome as impossible or very unlikely and 'hope' when we see it as possible. So, for example, if your brother is taking the driving licence exam on Monday, it would probably be more appropriate to say 'My brother hopes to get his licence on Monday' or 'I hope my brother gets his licence on Monday'.

In the third situation, both 'could' and 'would' are possible and the meanings are slightly different. 'I wish my son could join' means it's not possible for him to join, but that you wish it weren't impossible. 'I wish my son would join' means it's possible for him to join but that he doesn't want to and refuses to do it.

It is possible to use 'would' in a sentence with 'wish' where both clauses have the same subject, but it has a very specific meaning. For example, if I say 'I wish I would exercise every day', this means that I wish I had the desire or discipline to exercise every day but know that I don't. Like the third situation above, 'would' expresses the idea of desire or willingness. This is a pretty unusual situation and often we'd just say 'I wish I exercised every day', which is probably why grammar books don't mention it.

If you want to read a bit more about this, I'd suggest this page on 'wish' and this page on 'hope' on the Cambridge Dictionary website.

Hope this helps!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot, sir.

Ouuu I got all correct. It was fun learning this. Thank you! :DD

Hi, i got 7/8 but i think it's ok and i should more improve again and more understanding the material, but the explaination is so clear and easy to understand.

I wish it would rain. The garden really needs some water.
I wish I would eat less. I never wear a tight skirt any longer. ;)

Hi!
Here is my conclusion :
1/ we use "wish" or "if only" with past perfect form (Had+P.P) when we go further back in time when we are already talking about the past. It can make it clear that something had already happened at the time we are talking about.
example : I wish I wasn't late (for work), by the time I arrived the client had already left.(correct me if I'm wrong)
Peace.

Hi Dante2021,

We can use wish to talk about present or past regrets:

I wish I wasn't late. [a regret about the present: I am late now]

I wish I hadn't left my house late this morning. [a regret about the past: this morning]

I wish I hadn't been late yesterday. [a regret about the past: yesterday]

Regrets about the present are expressed with {wish + past simple]; regrets about the past are expressed with [wish + past perfect].

 

In your example the past perfect (had already left) is not part of a grammatical construction with wish; it is part of a different clause which provides context and explanation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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