How to use Wish

Learn about “wish” in English grammar. Clear and simple explanation of meaning and use, with examples.

Keith Taylor

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 were on a beach. (I’m in the office)
    • I wish it were 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 were lying on a beach now. (I’m sitting in the office)
    • I wish it weren’t raining. (It is raining)
    • I wish you weren’t leaving tomorrow. (You are leaving tomorrow)

In Standard English we use “I wish I were…” and “I wish it were…”. However, “I wish I was…” and “I wish it was” are in common usage. Using this form, the examples above would be:

  • I wish I was on a beach.
  • I wish it was the weekend.
  • I wish I was lying on a beach now.
  • I wish it wasn’t raining.

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 situation or 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

Keith Taylor

Keith is the co-founder of Eslbase and School of TEFL. He's been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years, in Indonesia, Australia, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and now in the UK.

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  • Vunguyen

    Excuse me! I need your help. Sentence: Today I must work hard. Rewrite: I wish we didn’t have to work hard. Right or wrong? Please

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Your rewritten sentence is correct!

  • Marios Athanasiou

    Hi,Mr Taylor! You said that we use wish +would +bare infinitive to express impatience, annoyance or dissatisfaction with a present action. To express that you want something to happen in the future hope is used instead of wish.
    I found on other sites that we use wish +would +bare infinitive to express that we want something to happen.
    Examples :1.I wish my car would start.
    2.I wish the lesson would end.
    Are those examples wrong?Is it wrong to use wish +would +bare infinitive to express that we want something to happen?
    According to your notes that examples should be like this:
    1.I hope my car starts.
    2.I hope the lesson ends.
    I am confused. Please tell me your opinion. Thank you very much!

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Marios
      In your examples you are correct that we want something to happen. However, if you look closely at them, you will see that the reason we want this thing to happen is because we are dissatisfied with the current situation.
      Hope that helps!

  • Linda

    Helpful and useful indeed

  • Dan Mosiko

    I just wanna thank you for this lesson. I was in trouble about using “wish” but now everything is good!

  • O'ktamjon

    Can any other tense forms be used in wish sentences besides past tenses? For example present or future tenses.
    I will look forward to your answers.
    Thank you.

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Please see the different rules in the article above, for example “wish + would” and “wish and want”. Hope that helps!

  • O'ktamjon

    Hello everyone. I would be thankful to take an answer to my question. The question is that we know wish is used to express the situation which is opposite to real one now or future meaning. (past simple is used) It is unreality. But can we use it to make an intention? It belongs to future and we don’t mean unreality or opposite happening. For example I wish you … a master economist in the future.
    A. Were B. Will be C. Are D. Can be.

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      We could say “I wish you could be a master economist in the future”. This suggests, however, that this situation (being a master economist in the future) is unlikely.

  • yusuf

    Which sentence is right: “My parents wish l could study more” or “My parents wish I would study more” ?

    • LAWANI Ezin Osséni

      Hello! I would like to speak about wish + object + infinitive. Is it correct to say: ” I wish you to go home ” , for instance? Just give me examples with that construction. Thanks.

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Yusuf

      Both are correct:

      “My parents wish I would study more” – Your parents think that you don’t study enough, and they want you to study more.
      “My parents wish I could study more” – It’s not possible for you to study more (for some reason) and your parents want that situation to change.

      Hope that helps.

  • Farshad

    Please answer my question:
    I wish you … English as well as Alex.
    B-could speak

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Both are correct!

  • Bryanna

    I have been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and I almost found the answer in this article but not quite.
    Why do some verbs function well by themselves in past simple when describing a wish/desire but others require “could” in order to not turn into a regret?

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      “Wish + past simple” tells us that we want a situation to be different in the present. When we talk about regrets, we’re talking about the past, so we would normally use “wish + past perfect”.

      But I know what you mean. If we say “I wish I had a bigger house”, it can sound a bit like a regret.

      So, if we say “I wish I could have a bigger house” or “I wish I could go swimming” we’re emphasising the idea of “possibility” or “ability”. This takes the emphasis off any idea of regret.

  • Ali

    Great illustrations in comments really clarified my confusion.

  • Martin

    Chaiya is correct, the statements at the top are incorrect, they should read:

    I wish I were (not was) on a beach. (I’m in the office)
    I wish it were (not was) the weekend. (It’s only Wednesday)

    Whilst in normal speech we may use was (incorrectly) Ss will not pass exams if we teach them incorrectly!!

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Martin

      Thanks for your comment, it raises a really important point that’s worth exploring. I agree with you about passing exams. Rightly or wrongly, exam papers have expectations that learners will use particular grammatical forms, normally those of what we call “Standard English”- this is the English used in education and other formal contexts. I’ve updated the examples to include the Standard English form.

      As for correctness though, I don’t agree. “I wish I was…” is not incorrect, it just isn’t a form found in Standard English. But Standard English is just one of an infinite number of English dialects. Language is constantly changing and evolving, because everyone has different language experiences, according to where we come from, our age, where we work, our level of education, our need to fit into a particular social group, and so on.

      So different grammar constructs and items of vocabulary are only “correct” or “incorrect” in the context of the rules of a particular dialect. “I don’t have no money” is incorrect according to the rules of Standard English, but is correct according to the rules of some other dialects. “How do you do?” is correct according to some people’s language experience, whereas “How’s it going?” is correct according to others’.

      Some of the changes in language remain confined to a relatively small number of speakers, whereas others become more widely adopted in the language as a whole, and end up spanning many, if not all, dialects.

      References in popular culture show us that “I wish I was…” is a widely adopted form. If you search a corpus (such as this one: for uses of “I wish I was”, you’ll find a number of references from TV shows, newspapers and magazines, ranging from CNN to Cosmopolitan. “I wish I were” has a similarly wide range of references. This shows us that both forms are in common usage.

      So, I agree that teaching Standard English is important if our learners’ objective is to pass an exam which requires that they use Standard English.

      But if our learners’ objective is to communicate effectively using grammatical forms and vocabulary which are widely used in the English language today, outside of contexts where Standard English is expected, then it is extremely important to teach them these as well.

  • Masoud Taleb Hariri

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

  • Chaiya Eitan

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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?”

  • Keith profile photo
    Keith Taylor

    Hi Yusuf

    “I wish you to go home” isn’t correct.
    “I wish you would go home” is correct.
    “I want you to go home” is correct.

    I hope this helps.

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