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)

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

Hello Tom.me,

(i) is not possible here.

There are several reasons for this.


First of all, we only use 'would' after 'wish' when it refers to a different person:

  • I wish he wouldn't do that! [correct - we are hoping for a change in his behaviour]
  • I wish I wouldn't do that! [incorrect - if we want a change in our own behaviour then we can simply change; there is no logic to wishing for something that is already within our power]


Second, 'would' after 'wish' describes a choice or a decision, so it does not make sense to use it in conjunction with 'have to', which describes an obligation - by definition, something where there is no choice.

I hope that clarifies it for you.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mrvsln on Mon, 03/04/2023 - 20:19


He wishes he ____ back in time and visit Ancient Rome.

would travel
could travel
could have travelled

In this question: We feel that they are unlikely or unwilling to change. In the Expressing annoyance part, although I could not see any "could" term, I can see the "would" term.

Could you please explain that?

Thank you.

Hello mrvsin,

I don't see this as expressing annoyance of any kind. The sentence describes the person's dream or fantasy; it does not tell us how anyone else feels about this. The correct answer is 'could travel'.

In any case, 'would' is not used when the subject of wish is the same as the subject of the second verb. That means I can say 'I wish he would...' and 'She wishes he would...' but not 'He wishes he would...'. The reason is that 'would' expresses a choice and if we want to make a choice we do, unless something prevents us - and if something prevents us then we use 'could' to express that we are prevented.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mrvsln on Mon, 03/04/2023 - 20:09



It looks like rain. I wish I ------- my umbrella.

In this question, I have been thinking about it shows an annoying situation.

I would give an answer like that; I wish I would bring my umbrella.

Or I would give an answer because of the present situation: I wish I brought my umbrella.

I did not understand the real answer. Could you please give us more explanation about the "had brought".

Thank you.

Hi mrvsln,

The annoyance meaning that is explained above is normally about the behaviour of other people or other things, and it's normally about repeated actions. It's a bit unusual to express annoyance about your own behaviour. Annoyance is normally about something outside your control. So, if you say "I wish I would bring my umbrella", it means that you repeatedly leave your umbrella at home, but that you also feel that you have no control over bringing it, which is an unusual idea.

"I wish I brought my umbrella" also isn't correct, because "I brought my umbrella" is not what really happened. In fact, I did not bring my umbrella. "I brought my umbrella" is just an imagined past event. To show that it is an imagined and unreal past event, instead of a real one, we use past perfect after "I wish". That's why "had brought" is the correct answer. 

Just to clarify, this sentence is about a past situation (not a present one). Although "It looks like rain" and "I wish" are about the present, "bring" is the action of taking or carrying something to the place where you are right now, so it refers to a time earlier that day (e.g. in the morning, when you were packing your bag to go to work, but you did not pack your umbrella). 

Does that make sense? I hope it helps.


LearnEnglish team