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)
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Hello howtosay_,

Both are possible but I think the second one would be quite unusual, and the meaning is not really about irritation.

The first sentence refers to a specific situation: the phone is ringing and you are annoyed (mildly or strongly) that no-one is answering it.

The second sentence has a more general meaning. It suggests that no-one ever answers the phone and you wish that this situation were different. It has the meaning 'Why doesn't anyone ever answer the phone?' or 'Why am I the only one who ever answers the phone?'



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Peter!

Thank you very much for your explanation!!! Could you please also clarify if it's possible to say "I wish I weren't nervous", "I wish he weren't nervous" or another grammar structure schould be used?

Hello howtosay_,

Yes, you can say that. These are wishes about the present. If you say 'I wish I weren't nervous' then it implies that your nervousness is out of your control, which makes sense.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Oras on Fri, 14/04/2023 - 13:25


Hi , could you please tell me why were is the correct answer? is it a mistake?
If only he _____ here now. He'd know what to do.
would be
Thank you

Hi Oras,

Actually, "were" is correct!

The usual past simple form of "he is" is "he was". It's also correct to say "If only he was here now" (although "was" isn't one of the answer options). 

However, 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.). You may have already seen the subjunctive in the common phrase "If I were you". The subjunctive is not very common in English overall, except for a small number of phrases like this.

I hope that helps to understand it.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Mr Shareef on Wed, 12/04/2023 - 06:30


Can you tell me what is the best answer for this question?
I'm having a good time. If only it ...... all the time.
(i) hadn't rained
(ii) wouldn't rain
(iii) didn't rain
(The teacher's guide says it is (i) but I am not sure)

Hello Mr Shareef,

Perhaps I've misunderstood the context, but to be honest, I don't think any of these answers make much sense.

'I'm having a good time' suggests that it's the current situation we're talking about, but 'all the time' seems to be speaking about a general situation. Assuming that it's raining now and that the speaker doesn't want it to be raining, what I'd say for the second sentence is 'If only it weren't raining' (without 'all the time').

Does that make sense?

All the best,
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Tom.me on Sun, 09/04/2023 - 00:02


I wish I _____ go to work tomorrow.
(i)(Incorrect)wouldn't have to
(ii)didn't have to
(iii)hadn't had to
I understand (ii) is appropriate but I also find (i) to be appropriate