How to Express Wishes and Regrets in English

In today’s lesson, we will be learning how to use “wish” and “if only” to express wishes and regrets about present, past and future.

We can use WISH in fixed expressions:
I wish you a happy New Year/birthday/retirement.
We wish you good luck in your new apartment/job.


You can also use wish instead of want:
I wish/want to speak to the manager.
I wish/want to enrol that school.


However, we can use the verb wish and the phrase if only to speak about things we want but which are not likely to happen.
Wish and if only are interchangeable but if only is more emphatic.


I wish / If only + Past Tense – wish about the present

We use wish and if only with past tense forms to express regret about the present situation.

I wish we were on holiday. (But we are not. We have to work.)
I wish I had a bigger house. (But I don’t. My house is small.)
If only it weren’t so hot. (But it’s scorching.)


Note: in standard English, after I/he/she/it we use ‘were‘ and not ‘was‘.


We can use wish + past continuous to say that we want to be doing something different in the present.
I wish we were flying instead of driving.
If only we were watching a movie now. But we have to do our homework.


I wish/If only + would – wish about the future


We use the modal verb would to express a wish for a change in the future:
I wish it would stop raining.
I wish you would pass that test.
If only my neighbours would stop yelling at each other.


I wish/If only + Past Perfect – regret about the past


We use the construction wish + Past Perfect to express regret about the past.
If only I had passed the test.
I wish I had been a better student.
I wish we hadn’t polluted our planet.


Wish and hope

If you want to express your wish about the future, use hope + present form, and not wish.
I hope it isn’t windy tomorrow. (not: I wish it weren’t windy)
We hope you have a pleasant trip.(not: we wish you had a pleasant trip)

How to express wishes and regrets in English

Download a worksheet with lesson and exercise

Do the quiz to perfect your knowledge 🙂

Similar posts

Zero Conditional

First Conditional

How to Use WOULD in English

If you really want to learn English but you don’t know how to do it and where to start, please contact us. We will help you continue your learning where you once stopped. Book a free online English lesson with one of our expert native English teachers and take a test and consultation.

Drop us a line on WhatsApp

Leave a Reply