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Wish Statements: Expressing Unreality

Learn how to use wish in English. Learn how to make wish statements in English to express unreality.

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We use wish or if only to describe unreality.  When we use wish we are speaking about what we want or desire, but we know that it is unrealistic or impossible.  When we use wish in the past, we are expressing a regret.


WISH / *IF ONLY  +   V2 (or continuous form)    

I wish I had a car.    (But I don’t have one and don’t expect to have one any time soon.)

She wishes it weren’t raining.  (It’s raining and there is nothing she can do about it.)

If only it weren’t raining, we could go to the beach.

WISH / *IF ONLY +  DIDN’T  +  V1   

Scott wishes he didn’t need to wash the car. (But he must wash it.)

I wish Miami didn’t have such a terrible baseball team. (The team is horrible and I can’t change that.)

If only Miami didn’t have such a terrible baseball team, I would go to the games more often.

*’If only’ is often used as a passing remark in spoken English.


WISH + COULD (NOT) + V1 ( to express a desire about an ability)

I wish I could fly.  (to express a desire to have a particular ability)

She wishes she could speak Chinese.

WISH + *WOULD (NOT) + V1 (to show annoyance or irritation)

I wish he would stop complaining.  (I am annoyed with him.)

The teacher wishes you wouldn’t keep coming late for class.  (The teacher is irritated about your tardiness.)

*Be careful, one can not use “I wish I would……”


WISH / *IF ONLY +  HAD + (NOT) + V3

I wish I had studied more when I was young.  (I didn’t study enough.)

If only I had studied more, I might have been a physicist.

She wishes she had not gone out last night.  (She went out and now she regrets it.)

*’If only’ is often used as a passing remark in spoken English.


Wish is sometimes used in the place of want in formal situations.  When we use wish in this type of situation, it is followed by an infinitive.

I wish to speak to the manager.   /  The director wishes to talk to you.

I want to speak to the manager.   /  The director wants to talk to you.


We often use wish in certain expressions.  This form of wish is not the same as the forms above, but is simply a greeting.

I wish you a Merry Christmas.   /    Best wishes.    /     To wish someone good luck    etc.

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Other suggested topics: The Conditional: Zero, First, Second, Third and Mixed Conditionals

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