English grammar – Wish

Wishes about the present and future

  1. wish + past simple is used 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. (It’s only Wednesday)
  2. wish + past continuous is used 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

wish + past perfect is used 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)
  • I wish I had studied harder at school. (I was lazy at school)

Wish + would

wish + would + bare infinitive is used 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 express that you want something to happen in the future (not wanting a situation to be different, and not implying impatience or annoyance) hope is used instead of wish.

  • I hope it’s sunny tomorrow.
  • “I wish it was sunny tomorrow” is not correct.

  • I hope she passes her exam next week.
  • “I wish she were passing her exam next week” is not correct.

  • I hope the plane doesn’t crash tomorrow.
  • “I wish the plane wouldn’t crash tomorrow” is not correct.

Wish and want

wish + infinitive or wish + object + infinitive is used 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

I/we wish you… is used 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)

Related grammar points

Third conditional

12 teaching ideas and comments

  1. Anonymous

    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?”

  2. Mohamed Najih

    Well, I agree using pictures is a good way to introduce “wish” to students. Because with one single picture you can elicit many different sentences. Here is another possibility:

    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 and then ask them what they hope or wish the situation was instead. Of course, some get the correct structure right from the start, but some keep hypothesising. If nobody gets the structure, I tell them and let them express their feelings about the situation. This way, the structure becomes automatic before even explaining it. Good luck!

  3. Anonymous

    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.

  4. Sedighe

    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.

  5. Renata

    You can use “a magic lamp”. Tell students to make three wishes for the genie (it doesn’t matter if they don’t use the correct structure at first). Start talking about your own wishes and highlight structure on the board. Students correct their own sentences.

  6. Stephen

    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.

  7. John

    Another important distinction to be made in using wish (talking about the present) is why we sometimes use would, but at other times simple past.

    I give students situations:

    You can’t understand people on TV so you think… I wish they spoke slower.

    Compared with talking face to face, you might think… I wish she would speak slower.

    Give other contrasting situations like:

    I wish he drove slower or I wish he would drive slower.

    How do feel when you say the former? And the latter? Try to elicit the rule: simple past when you think there’s no possibility of change (at that moment), would when you think there may be change. Talking about the past is much clearer: always past perfect.

  8. khalid Elmansouri

    Thank you for your interesting ideas, but how can we check their understanding ?
    -Ss will use simple present instead of simple past and simple past instead of past perfect.

  9. Nazifullah Nazif

    Well, a teacher should make a situation for students in class in order to make them have and present an idea about a particular condition.
    For example, today is one of your classmates wedding party and all students are going now. Only one of them is not invited. So, ask the student who is not invited what he was going to do if invited.
    His right answer in this situation is:

    If he invited me, I would go with you now.

    The same situation should be made again for students in the past if one student was not invited in the past.
    The right answer is:

    If he had invited me to the wedding, I would have gone with you.

    The same situation for the future. So the right answer is.

    If he invites me, I will go with you.

  10. Chaiya Eitan

    It should be: I wish I WERE, not WAS.

  11. Masoud Taleb Hariri

    ‘I wish I were …’ is correct. If we talk about the Present Unreal, we use Past Simple or Past Progressive structure.

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