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I wish/if only – Grammar chart

Wishes and regrets – I wish / if only

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I wish I did

We can use wish + subject + past simple to talk about things that we would like to be different in the present or future (but that are very unlikely or impossible).

  • I wish things were different, but this is the way they are.  
  • We wish we had enough money to help you.
  • I wish I could be there for you tomorrow.  

I wish I had done

We can use wish + subject + past perfect to talk about things that happened in the past and that we regret (we would have wanted them to be different).

  • I wish I hadn’t quit my job two years ago. 
  • I wish we hadn’t wasted all that money. 

I wish you would do

We can use wish + person/thing + would + infinitive when we talk about situations that annoy us and would like them to change or to stop.

  • I wish you would stop biting your nails. I hate it when you do it.
  • I wish it would stop raining. It’s been three days!

We can NOT use this structure to wish about ourselves:

  • I wish I would… blank

If only

We can use if only instead of I wish with a very similar meaning. The only difference is that if only is more emphatic.

  • If only I was/were a bit taller!*
  • If only you had followed my advice. 
  • If only you would make a bit of an effort. You are wasting your life! 

Note that we can use were instead of was with I/he/she after I wish/if only.