Other Grammar Rules

Expressing a wish or a regret

The expressions 'I wish' and 'If only' are used in English to express wishes and regrets about things that may happen in the future or may have happened in the past.

Wish and ‘If only’ are both used to talk about regrets – things that we would like to change either about the past or the present.

Talking about the present

  • If only I didn’t have so much homework I could go to the concert tonight. She has a lot of homework and she can’t go to the concert.
  • I wish you didn’t live so far away.
  • I wish I knew what to do.

When we talk about present regrets, both wish and if only are followed by the past simple tense. The past tense emphasises that we are talking about something ‘unreal’.

Talking about the past

  • I wish I’d studied harder when I was at school. He didn’t study harder when he was at school.
  • I wish I hadn’t eaten all that chocolate. I feel sick.
  • If only I’d known you were coming.

Both wish and if only are followed by the past perfect tense when we talk about past regrets.

Wish/if only and would

We use wish + would to talk about something in the present that we would like to change – usually something that we find annoying.

  • I wish you wouldn’t borrow my clothes without asking.
  • I wish it would rain. The garden really needs some water.
  • I wish you’d give up smoking. it’s really bad for you.

NB We can only use wish + would to talk about things we can’t change.

So I wish I wouldn’t eat so much chocolate is not possible although we can say I wish I didn’t eat so much chocolate.

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