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 (84 votes)


I'll try to answer your questions.

  1. I hoped she passed the exam - Yes, this is correct!
  2. I hoped she was cooking yesterday - I'm not sure if this makes sense. "Hope" means that there is a good thing that you want to happen. Is "she was cooking" a good thing that you wanted to happen?
  3. I hoped she has passed the exam. - "hoped" is in the past simple, so it makes more sense to put "passed" in the past simple as well (not "has passed", which is present perfect).
  4. I hoped she had passed the exam - This is correct, but "had passed" (past perfect) means that this action of passing the exam happened before something else. It's not clear what the other thing is.
  5. I hoped you could pass the exam - This is correct! Saying "could" means it's about having the ability to pass the exam (not just about the result of passing the exam).
  6. I hoped you would have passed the exam - This is correct. The meaning is similar to 1 (but with "you" instead of "she").
  7. I hoped you could have passed the exam - Also correct. The meaning is similar to 5, but "could have" shows that the action of passing the exam is already complete.

Note that in all of your examples, you used the past simple "hoped", so it means you hoped this some time in the past, not right now at the moment of speaking this sentence.

For your last question about "wish" and "hope", they are different. "Wish" shows something that you would like to have happened differently. If you say I wish she had passed the exam, it means that in reality she did not pass the exam. 

I hope that helps.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by KemKem on Wed, 20/09/2023 - 04:41


Can you please tell me whether the sentences are correct and their differences.
My wife doesn't know how to cook. I wish she knew how to cook.
My wife doesn't know how to cook. I wish she would know how to cook.

Hello KemKem,

The first sentence is correct. Wish here describes something which is not true but which you would like to be true. To talk about the present after wish we use a past form, just as you did,


The second sentence is not correct. We can follow wish with 'would' when we are talking about a choice. For example:

It's so noisy in here. I wish she would turn the music down!

This describes a choice she can make if she chooses. You can think of it as meaning 'I wish she would decide to....'

In your second sentence there is no choice. You could say 'I wish she would learn...' or 'I wish she would take a course...' or 'I wish she would try harder', but we cannot choose to know something. Therefore 'would' is not possible here.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lady.Haha on Sun, 13/08/2023 - 16:14


Hello, sir
Can you help me, please?
Can you tell me the difference between these sentences:

1. I wish Sarah would come.
and I wish Sarah were here now. (Why not: I wish Sarah would be here now?)

2. I wish someone would buy me a car.
and I wish I had a car. (Why not: I wish I would have?)

Thank you so much for your help.

Hello Lady.Haha,

1. When we use 'would' after 'wish', we're generally talking about the other person's (or object's) will (see definition 2.3 on the linked page). So 'I wish Sarah would come' suggests we think Sarah isn't coming because she doesn't want to or hasn't decided to come. 'I wish Sarah were here now' doesn't refer to her will in any way; it just says you would like for her to be here now. 

2. Similar to 1, 'I wish someone would buy me a car' means you would like for someone to buy you that car; by saying it this way, it suggests no one wants to or can do so. 'I wish I had a car' doesn't refer to other people, but rather is just a wish for a situation that doesn't exist for you, i.e. you don't have a car. We don't generally use 'I would' after 'I wish' because we generally think we have control over our own desires, at least in terms of how English grammar conceives of it.

Hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Gaetano98 on Sun, 30/07/2023 - 13:43


Hello. Why in the second question " He wishes he ____ back in time and visit Ancient Rome" we have to answer "could travel" instead of "would travel"

Hi Gaetano98,

The phrase wish + subject + would(n't) is normally used to talk about the behaviour of another person or thing, not the speaker's own. The important thing to note is that it is outside the speaker's control. So, you could say He wishes the rain would stop, or He wishes the boss wouldn't give him so much work to do, as these wishes are about other people/things.  Saying He wishes he would(n't) ... is unusual because it implies that he is not in control of his own actions. (However, it may indeed be used to talk about compulsive habits, where the person does not feel in control of their own actions, e.g. He wishes he wouldn't smoke so much).

Also, the sentence seems to need to include the idea of time travel being possible, since it's apparently impossible, with our current knowledge, so could is the right answer.

Does that make sense?


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by solo.90 on Wed, 21/06/2023 - 22:28


Could we say that( if only )is a branch of conditionals or it's a whole new catagury?

Hello solo.90,

Yes, that's a good way to think about it. If only... differs from if... (past unreal) in that it adds a strong sense of regret and that the result clause is very often implied rather than stated.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by xheisi-.- on Wed, 31/05/2023 - 10:58


I don't understand why in this sentence
"If only he were her now" is used were and in
"If only there was a restaurant open now." is used was.
And can we use was both were and was in this sentences?