I wish & if only – English grammar courses

For this lesson, we will learn about the expressions “I wish” and “if only”.

These two expressions are used in different forms to express wish, regret or complaint.

  • How to express wish or desire

In this case, both expressions “I wish” and “if only” are used by having the following verb change to the past simple tense. The past tense, for these phrases, is not viewed literally as the past and is actually used to express a wish in the present or the future. For example:

  • I wish I knew how to speak British English.
  • If only you didn’t live far away.
  • I wish I were a billionaire.
  • If only I didn’t eat that meal.
  • I wish I could play the piano.
  • If only we could go to the beach today.

When the verb is ‘To be’ and the subject is ‘I’ we use ‘I were’ instead of ‘I was’.


  • How to express regret

In this case, the expressions are followed by past perfect. We use it to express a regret of something we didn’t do in the past.

  • I wish I had known the answer.
  • If only you had been present.
  • I wish he had given me a call.
  • If only we had met sooner instead of later.
  • I wish they had stayed open for longer.
  • If only we had more things to do.


  • How to express complaint

In this case, we express our complaining about a behaviour or dissatisfaction about something. It’s formed using the modal ‘would’ +verb.

–             I wish you would work hard for your exams.

–             If only you would stop crying!

–             I wish he would explain more about his courses.

–             If only she would stop taking my stuff.

–             I wish they would stop making so much noise.

–             If only you would come.


Let’s do some exercises with what we have learned already.

  1. Create two sentences expressing wish using both the “I wish” and “if only” phrases.
  2. Create two sentences expressing regret using both the “I wish” and “if only” phrases.
  3. Create two sentences expressing complaint using both the “I wish” and “if only” phrases.