'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

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Average: 4 (4 votes)

Submitted by Davydenko on Wed, 16/11/2022 - 14:00

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Hi, Could you please help? I have a sentence: I wish you would take a photo of me so I could send it to my friends. Why we can't say here I wish you took a photo of me instead? Thanks a lot.

Hello Davydenko,

We use 'wish' + a past form to talk about a present situation, but taking a photo of someone is more of an action than a situation. When we use this structure, we don't think the change that we wish for is possible, at least for now.

'wish' + 'would' + verb is similar in that we use it to talk about a change we would like, and often this change is one we don't think is possible. But when we say it directly to another person, it's as if we're asking them to do what we want.

In your situation, it seems you're asking the person to take the photo, which more closely matches the use of 'wish' + 'would'.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AndreaBuzz on Sat, 22/10/2022 - 06:35

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Sorry, I have a dubt about the use of past form in a present situation I want it was different. For example, I could say
"I wish I didn't invite so many people at the dinner today.".
My question is, which is the difference if I said
"I whish I haven't invited so many people at the dinner today".

In the second phrase I used the present perfect typically used to speak about of a fact happened in the past that has some connection with the present or an action start in the recent past and finished now.
Is the difference in the use of "wish" that express a state of desire while the other is more neutral?

Hello AndreaBuzz,

When we are talking about imagined, wished for or unlikely situations, we often shift the verb form back in time. For example, the present changes to the past simple, and the past changes to the past perfect. The tense change suggests a distance from reality. English teachers often call this different time 'unreal'.

Your first sentence is OK, but I'd suggest saying 'hadn't invited' because you presumably invited people before today -- that is, the action of inviting people was a past action. When we speak with regret about a past action, we typically use the past perfect.

It's great to see you thinking carefully about the tenses -- I can see this in your point about a connection between the past and the present. But when we're speaking about wishes or 'unreal' time, the normal rules don't apply.

I hope that helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RaulCaldas on Thu, 06/10/2022 - 20:14

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Hi, i have a doubt in this sentence:
-if only he were here now. He´d know what to do.
Shouldn´t be he was here now?
Thank you.

Hello RaulCaldas,

In if-clauses using the past simple both 'was' and 'were' can be used for the first and third person:

If I was... OR If I were...

If he/she/it was OR If he/she/it were

'Were' is perhaps slightly more traditional and 'was' used to be considered a mistake. However, in modern English both are used and accepted.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by EuK on Sat, 01/10/2022 - 16:15

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Hi! It's pretty clear how to use this structure to talk about situations in the present and the past, thanks for the article! My question how do we express the same idea about the future? I'm a bit confused here. There are some elements of potential future situations when we use 'I wish/If only + would' but these are special situations, that we don't really think will happen. Got this from the replies to the comments - tell me if I'm wrong. But what about general situations in the future? For example there is a sentence in my students book: 'If only the weather were nice on Sunday!'. Is it correct? Why can't we say then: 'If only she came tomorrow!'? Could you clarify how we speak about situations in the future.

Hi EuK,

I think you can probably find examples of if only with a specific future reference but I would hesitate to say they are standard use. I can't think of any examples which sound natural to my ear. We can use if only + will with future meaning, however. It's a way of anthropomorphising inanimate objects - giving them will even when they don't have it. The weather is a good example:

If only the rain will hold off on Sunday, we'll be able to have the party outside.

When the speaker sees the situation as unlikely then the past form can be used:

If only the rain would hold off on Sunday, we'd be able to have the party outside.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team