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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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?

Hi xheisi-.-,

Yes, both "was" and "were" are fine in those two sentences!

The reason is that "was" and "were" are actually two different structures.

  • To express a situation in the present that is not real and only imagined, we can use a past form (e.g. "If only he was here now" - it means that he is not here now, but I want him to be here).
  • But this meaning can also be expressed using a verb form called the subjunctive ("If only he were here now"). The subjunctive is less used in modern English than in the past, but it still survives in some common expressions, e.g. after "If only" and "I wish", and also "If I were ..." (e.g. If I were you, ...).

That's why both are considered correct.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by tranghuyentothe on Fri, 26/05/2023 - 16:54


I hope you could help me with this question because I’m a little bit confused.

As I have just done the Grammar test 1 and read one of your comments, I knew that after "If only" and also "I wish", in traditional grammar, it's correct to use a verb form called the subjunctive. The subjunctive is a verb form that is used for expressing doubts and wishes, and the past form is "were" for all persons (I, you, he, she, etc.).

But in the question: “I’m starving. If only there ____ a restaurant now.” The answer to this question is “ was”. I want to ask why it is “was” but not “were”.
Thank you so much in advance for your help.

Hello tranghuyentothe,

The key word here is 'traditional'. Language change over time and while in the past using 'was' in such sentences would have been seen as an error, today both forms are quite common. I think for some people 'were' is still seen as the 'more correct' form especially in very formal contexts, but it is undeniable that both are acceptable and in common use.

The same thing can be seen in if-clauses, where 'If I were you...' is still the preferred form for most, but 'If I was you...' is becoming more common.


The subjunctive is much less common that it used to be. Even verbs which are traditionally followed by the subjunctive such as suggest, insist and recommend are now more often followed by a present or past simple form.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hanadihkm on Fri, 26/05/2023 - 14:26


Could you please tell me which answer is the correct one and why?
I feel so unhappy in my new position. I wish ......... in the first place.
a- didn't accept
b- hadn't accept

Hi Hanadihkm,

It should be: hadn't accepted (with "-ed"). To show your wish that something in the past was different, the structure is: I wish + past perfect. The past perfect is made of "had" + past participle.

It would also sound natural to add the object too: I wish I hadn't accepted it ...

I hope that helps.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by maribi1 on Sat, 29/04/2023 - 23:40


Hi, I have a doubt about this sentence:
tonight I really want to watch a movie. If only the television hadn't/hasn't broken!
which one is correct?