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
Read the explanation to learn more.
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.
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
Lucky me, since i'm always regretting things about the past in my head, I almost know how to use I wish and if only by heart.
No, I'm afraid it wouldn't be correct to say 'I wish I wouldn't have a headache' or 'If only I wouldn't have a headache' in this case.
The subject of the verb 'have' in the sentence is 'I', not the headache, and it doesn't really express the idea of willingness or unwillingness.
It's unusual (though not impossible) to say 'I wish I would' because we don't usually express wishes about our own behavior -- this is because, in theory at least, we are in control of our behavior and therefore don't have to make wishes about it. We wish for things that we're not completely in control of.
It's when we feel we aren't in complete control that we could use this 'I wish I would' structure. For example, if I say 'I wish I would stop smoking', it suggests that I don't think I am in complete control, perhaps because I'm addicted to nicotine.
It's possible to say 'I wish I stopped smoking', but that is odd because by doing that I'm talking about myself as an object. People don't normally use this grammar to speak about themselves in this way.
I hope this helps you make sense of the grammar.
All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team
Most of the time, we don't use 'would' in the clause after 'wish' when the subject of both clauses is the same. In the first situation you describe, instead you should say 'didn't have to work' (just as you suggest).
In the second situation, you could say 'could', but, unless I've misunderstood, it sounds to me as if a sentence with 'hope' might be more appropriate. We use 'wish' when we regard the outcome as impossible or very unlikely and 'hope' when we see it as possible. So, for example, if your brother is taking the driving licence exam on Monday, it would probably be more appropriate to say 'My brother hopes to get his licence on Monday' or 'I hope my brother gets his licence on Monday'.
In the third situation, both 'could' and 'would' are possible and the meanings are slightly different. 'I wish my son could join' means it's not possible for him to join, but that you wish it weren't impossible. 'I wish my son would join' means it's possible for him to join but that he doesn't want to and refuses to do it.
It is possible to use 'would' in a sentence with 'wish' where both clauses have the same subject, but it has a very specific meaning. For example, if I say 'I wish I would exercise every day', this means that I wish I had the desire or discipline to exercise every day but know that I don't. Like the third situation above, 'would' expresses the idea of desire or willingness. This is a pretty unusual situation and often we'd just say 'I wish I exercised every day', which is probably why grammar books don't mention it.
If you want to read a bit more about this, I'd suggest this page on 'wish' and this page on 'hope' on the Cambridge Dictionary website.
Hope this helps!
All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team