I wish/if only

Wishes about the present

We use wish + past Tense (simple and continuous) to express regret about present situations:

– I wish I was taller = (I’m not very tall)

– I wish I was going with you = (but I’m not)

– I wish you were more help. = (you are not)

I wish I were can replace I wish I was. To many people, I wish I were sounds more correct:

I wish I were taller.


We use wish + could to express a wish for a present situation to be different:

 I wish I would tell her about it. I wish I could tell her about it.


Past Simple + present I wish I knew the answer. (= I don’t know)

Past Simple + present I wish I was /were better at sports. (= I’m not)

Past Continuous + present I wish I was /were going with you. (= I’m not)     

Could + present  I wish I could give you an answer. (= I can’t)

Would + future  I wish you would be quiet. (= Your talking irritates me.)

Past Perfect + past  I wish I had known you then. (= but I didn’t)

Could have + past I wish I could have explained. (= I wasn’t able to)


Wishes about the future


We use wish + would to say how we would like somebody to behave in the future:

X I wish you to stop talking. I wish you would stop talking.

X I wish that they will stop arguing. I wish they would stop arguing.

• We can also use this pattern in situations that do not involve people:

I wish this car would go faster.


Wishes about the past

We use wish + Past Perfect when we have Regrets about the past:

I wish I hadn’t taken your advice. (= but I did)

I wish she could have come. (= but she didn’t)


If only

If only can be more emphatic than I wish. The verb forms after if only are the same as the patterns with wish:

If only I had more money! (= but I haven’t)

If only I was going on holiday with you!

If only you were here. (= but you’re not)

If only you could be here! (= but you’re not)

If only I‘d listened to you! (=but I didn’t)

If only he could have explained! (=but he wasn’t able to)

Exercises 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,6

A nurse has recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and among the top ones is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’. What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day of life? top-five-regrets-of-the-dying

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