Grammar: ‘I wish’ and ‘If only’
‘I wish’ and ‘If only’ mean the same thing. We use them to make wishes about the present and the future, and to express regrets about the past. These expressions are very common in B2-level exams, so we thought it would be a good idea to practise them. Using these structures correctly in the Speaking or the Writing tests will really raise the level of your language.
Making a wish
When we make a wish about the present or future, we use the past simple to make it less real. This is because (unlike many languages) we don’t use the subjunctive very much in English.
Look at these wishes about now:
I wish I had a million Euros! (But I don’t!)
If only I had more free time for hobbies. (But I don’t!)
I wish I could speak Thai! (But I can’t!)
If only I lived in a more exciting place! (But I don’t!)
These sentences link with the second conditional, which we also use to talk about the present and the future. For example:
I wish I had a million Euros! If I had all that money, I’d travel round the world!
I wish I could speak Thai! If I were a fluent Thai speaker, I’d be able to get a job in Bangkok.
Expressing regrets – wishing you could change the past
We can also use these expressions to talk about something we’re not happy with about the past. It’s too late to change things, but we can express our regrets. As we’ve already used the past simple to make present and future wishes, we have to use the past perfect here.
Look at these regrets about the past:
If only the government had acted more quickly at the start of the pandemic.
I wish I’d studied harder while I was at school.
These sentences link with the third conditional, which we also use to talk about the past. For example:
If only the government had acted more quickly! If they’d closed the airports earlier, Covid 19 wouldn’t have spread so fast.
I wish I’d studied harder while I was at school. If I’d passed all my exams, I’d probably have got a better job.
Talking about annoying habits and situations
When we want to express annoyance, impatience or dissatisfaction with a person’s behaviour or with a situation, we use wish + would + infinitive. We use this to talk about the present and/or the future.
I wish my kids would clear the table after meals – I’m always telling them to! (NOT ‘ wish they cleared’)
I wish it’d stop raining so that we could continue with the match! (NOT ‘I wish it stopped’)
You can find more details and examples of these structures in the Grammar Reference section.
Mini-test: ‘I wish’ and ‘if only’: past simple, past perfect, or would + infinitive?
Make sure you think clearly about the context before answering the questions.
If you enjoyed this mini-test, why not try some more? You’ll find a compilation of grammar and vocabulary activities in 5-Minute Aptis: Mini-Tests & Memory Games. There are also links to the relevant posts where we explain the structures and lexis in more detail.
And do our exam-style Grammar and Vocabulary Practice Tests too – they’re compiled in Aptis Core Test: Vocabulary and Grammar.