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 (85 votes)
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Submitted by wcyam10 on Sat, 14/03/2020 - 10:53

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
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 15/03/2020 - 07:20

In reply to by wcyam10


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.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by wcyam10 on Sat, 14/03/2020 - 10:52

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


The LearnEnglish Team