English grammar - wish

- - Wish

Form and meaning

Wishes about the present and future

  1. We use wish + past simple to express that we want a situation in the present (or future) to be different.
    • I wish I spoke Italian.
      I don't speak Italian.
    • I wish I had a big car.
      I don't have a big car.
    • I wish I was on a beach.
      I'm in the office.
    • I wish it was the weekend tomorrow. (future)
      It's only Thursday tomorrow.
  2. We use wish + past continuous to express that we want to be doing a different action in the present (or future).
    • I wish I was lying on a beach now.
      I'm sitting in the office.
    • I wish it wasn't raining.
      It is raining.
    • I wish you weren't leaving tomorrow.
      You are leaving tomorrow.

Wishes about the past

We use wish + past perfect to express a regret, or that we want a situation in the past to be different.
  • I wish I hadn't eaten so much.
    I ate a lot.
  • I wish they'd come on holiday with us.
    They didn't come on holiday with us.
  • I wish I had studied harder at school.
    I was lazy at school.

Wish + would

We use wish + would + bare infinitive to express impatience, annoyance or dissatisfaction with a present action.
  • I wish you would stop smoking.
    You are smoking at the moment and it is annoying me.
  • I wish it would stop raining.
    I'm impatient because it is raining and I want to go outside.
  • I wish she'd be quiet.
    I am annoyed because she is speaking.

Wish and hope

To simply express that you want something to happen in the future (not talking about wanting an action or situation to be different, and not talking about impatience or annoyance) we use hope, not wish.
  • I hope it's sunny tomorrow.
    NOT I wish it was sunny tomorrow.
  • I hope she passes her exam next week.
    NOT I wish she were passing her exam next week.
  • I hope the plane doesn't crash tomorrow.
    NOT I wish the plane wouldn't crash tomorrow.

Wish and want

We can use wish + infinitive or wish + object + infinitive to mean want in a formal situation.
  • I wish to leave now. (+ infinitive)
  • I wish to speak to your supervisor please. (+ infinitive)
  • I do not wish my name to appear on the list. (+ object + infinitive)

Wish in fixed expressions

We can use I / We wish you in fixed expressions.
  • I wish you a happy birthday.
  • We wish you good luck in your new job.


(See the phonemic chart for IPA symbols used below)

In connected speech catenation and elision often occur with wish.
  • I wish I'd studied harder: /wI ʃaɪd/
    (catenation - the last consonant sound of wish is joined to the vowel sound in I)
  • I wish he hadn't done that: /wI ʃiː/
    (catenation and elison - as above, and the first consonant sound in he is elided)

Ideas for teaching wish

How do you teach wish? Add your idea »

Pictures work best. Something simple like a picture of someone running in the rain or a child crying (easy to find in magazines). Question students along the lines of:
"What is she doing?" (running in the rain)
"Does she want to be running in the rain?" (no)
"What does she want to be doing?" (sitting at home with a cup of tea).
"So, does she wish she was sitting at home with a cup of tea?"
Plenty of build up like this, repetition with different examples and different pictures will give students the idea and the structure.
You can do the same for any of the "wish" structures. A picture of a person in prison:
"Why is he in prison?" (because he stole a car)
"Does he regret stealing the car?" (if students are not comfortable with the verb regret: "Does he want to change the past?" (yes)
"What does he regret?" (stealing the car)
"So he wishes he hadn't stolen the car?"

An idea I stole from my ESL teacher trainer is to introduce "Wish" with music. The band, Pearl Jam, has a song called Wishlist and the song constantly repeats the form, "I wish..." I have the students perform activities with the lyrics (mazes, jumbles, etc...) to become familiar with the structure. Also, a great listening activity."

I use a magic lamp, like we see in the movies, and I tell them that they should make three wishes for the genie. It doesn't matter if they make some mistakes. I then start talking about my wishes and explain all the cases of wish"

I choose funny daily situations so that I can get their attention. For instance:
What if you missed a nice party with a lot of delicious food that took place yesterday?
I wish I had attended the party. I would have eaten...

Then I remind them that it exactly the same as the third conditional. Note that I start with the past perfect as it is easier to understand than the "unreal past"

Well! The first thing I say to my students is "I wish I wasn't here now. I wish I was on vacation." And then ask what their wishes are and to share their wishes with the class. Starting this way boosts their confidence. And when they can express their wishes following my example, they are over the moon! I personally wanted to learn the model from my teacher first when I myself was a student years back. But actually, good examples at the beginning always trigger effective results."
AQM Khairul Basher

For teenagers or adult students... I tell students that I went out last night and got really drunk and did a bunch of stupid things. In the morning I saw all the pictures up on facebook. I ask them to write what is going through my mind. Wow! I spent so much money last night, I wish I hadn't spent so much money. My favorite shirt is ruined, I wish I hadn't spilled my drink on it. etc.

Well!! I agree with Chris using pictures is a good way to introduce wish to students. Because with one single picture you can elicit many different sentences. however, I have another way of doing this. I tell students a story in which I appear as a victim. How? for example I tell them that my best friend went somewhere ( attended a party) without inviting me. I appear as if I am really shocked by this action and then ask them to say what they hope or wish the situation was instead. of course some of them get the correct structure right from the start, but some keep hypothesising. This way they compare between their native language and the target one. So I start where they are not where I am. If no one gets the structure I tell them the structure and let them express their feelings about the inccident. this way the structure becomes automatic before even explaining it. Good luck!
Mohamed Najih

Provide a context... for example, there is a good film on television tonight, but John has to revise because tomorrow he has a test.
Can John see the film?
Why not?
What does he want?
He wishes he could see the film.
He wishes he didn't have to revise his lessons.

My method is a little bit different because I ask my students about the social evils of our society. Their answers include pollution, bribery, nepotism and abuse of power. My next question is what their wishes are and in which society they prefer to live. Though my learners give grammatically incorrect sentences, it is my role to help them use correct sentences.

I draw a lion chasing a man on the board with a bubble over the man's head "I wish I..." I write the first sentence "I wish I could run faster" then I ask students to complete the sentence in their own words. It's funny and makes students use the structure.

I just want to comment. I was hoping to find some tips in this forum and I did. AQM Khairul Basher's method appeals to me the most! It's brilliant teaching. Always relating to "here and now" is the most credible, authentic context and the surest way to penetrate the student's personal "firewall". Let's keep things simple and stay away from the elaborate, since the elaborate may put pupils off and look suspicious to them. Thanks for sharing Khairul!

First, I create a situation related to the social background of my student. For example "a wedding party". I ask them to make comments about the clothes or the bride using wish... "I wish she hadn't worn that dress" "I wish I had been a bridesmaid" and so on.

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