'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: 3.7 (13 votes)

Submitted by Ulk on Mon, 30/05/2022 - 22:32

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Hello. My question concerns Wish + Would speaking about other person's actions. I s it always only about annoyance? Can i say' I wish she would come' expressing just my desire to see her + ( = I want her to come) Or in the latter case I should only say ' I wish she came or I wish she were there ' Thank you

Hello Ulk,

Wish + would is often used to express disapproval but it can be used in other ways, as you say. Note, however, that it expresses regret of some kind rather than hope or expectation. Thus, if you say 'I wish she would come' you do not believe that she will, whereas if you say 'I hope she comes' you still have some hope.

'I wish she were there' has a different meaning. It describes a present situation which is not true, as in 'I wish I were a millionaire'.

'I wish she came' is not correct as it refers to a past event (she didn't come). You would need to use the past perfect in this case: 'I wish she had come'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Peter
But I’m a little bit confused now )
Am I right in thinking that I can use Would in 2 cases : when I’m annoyed with her – I wish she would come and also when I regret about the situation ( for ex. I know that it’s unlikely that she’ll come ) – I wish she would come - and since the grammar is the same it’s only me who knows what meaning is implied?
Secondly, my phrase ‘ I wish she came’ was meant for the present , the same as in the explanation on this page above: We can use wish/if only + a past form to talk about a present situation we would like to be different. ( ex. I wish I lived closer to my family ). In my understanding it also has a similar meaning with your example about a millionaire :
I wish I were a millionaire ( past simple) = I’m not a millionaire, I regret it and I want a change
I wish she came ( past simple ) = She is not going to come , I regret that she isn’t here now and I want a change . To me it’s the same as 'I wish she were here' but with a different verb .
Where am I wrong?

Hello again Ulk,

Your summary is correct. A sentence like 'I wish she would come' can have more than one meaning depending on the context. However, the choice of a positive or negative verb gives a clue.

We generally use a negative form to express annoyance at typical behaviour:

I wish you wouldn't smoke in the car. It's horrible!

A positive verb is more common when talking about a single choice which we think is still possible, though unlikely, rather than typical behaviour:

I wish he'd come to the party.

I wish they'd sign the contract.

 

To your second point, the problem here is the context. The speaker is at the party so 'come' describes an action in the past which we only know is true when the other person arrives. Thus the options are as follows:

I wish she were here. [the present I would like]

I wish she had come. [the past I would like so that the present I would like is true]

I wish she would come. [a hypothetical future - the decision is not yet taken]

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Peter,
Considering your answer, am I right this time?

- She doesn’t understand the wish structure - I wish she understood the wish structure ( now ) – Past simple tense , my regret about the present, the same as in ‘ I wish I lived closer to my family’

- She doesn’t understand the wish structure.- I wish she would understand ( one day ) the wish structure . - Would, a hypothetical future, I don’t consider the present situation, I only think about the future which is rather unlikely

- I hope she understands the wish structure ( one day) - I’m sure she’s not that bad, she can do it ;)

- In case of the incorrect ‘I wish she came’ , speaking about now, the choice of the verb is wrong , because come refers only to the future, it’s not about the present, she’s not here now. In this case we should pick the verb BE to be correct- I wish she were here – I regret that she’s not here now

Hello again,

Those are almost all correct - well done. The only one that doesn't really work is the second one [I wish she would understand (one day) the wish structure]. The problem is that this use of 'would' implies a choice, and 'understand' is not something we make a choice about but rather something that we try to achieve and either do or do not. If the context included a choice then you could use 'would' like this:

I wish she would accept the job, but I don't think she will.

When you think about it, these sentences are as much if not more about the present than the future, as they really describe how we see the current situation (right now it's unlikely) rather than purely the future.

Where no choice is present I think 'hope' is the best choice used with a rider to show our doubts:

I hope she understands the wish structure one day, but I don't think it's very likely.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abhay on Sun, 01/05/2022 - 16:27

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Hello sir,
I was reading the novel "THE JUNGLE BOOK"
and following are a few lines of it.

MY DOUBT: My question is about the usage of 'ONLY' in following passage.
Sir , is it possible that after the word 'only' the word 'NO'(as a determiner) can be used?
In following passage 'NO' is used in this manner. Please clarify.

Thanking you.

PASSAGE: “By Red Flower Bagheera meant fire, ONLY no creature in the jungle will call fire by its proper name.

Every beast lives in deadly fear of it, and invents a hundred ways of describing it. "The Red Flower?" said Mowgli. "That grows outside their huts in the twilight.”

Submitted by ninaals on Tue, 22/02/2022 - 17:36

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Lucky me, since i'm always regretting things about the past in my head, I almost know how to use I wish and if only by heart.