Wishful Thinking – Introduction

“I wish” and “If only” are commonly used to express regret about the past, dissatisfaction with the present as well as a present or future desire for something that is not possible or unlikely to happen. Statements with “If only” are often perceived as stronger than those with “I wish”.

  1. To express wishes for the present or future which are impossible or unlikely to happen, we use I wish / If only + PAST SIMPLE or PAST CONTINUOUS

In wishful thinking, just as in conditional sentences, we tend to use “were” instead of “was”, especially in more formal situations. However, using “was” is not considered a mistake, e.g.: I wish I was/were able to recall the name of that supplier

Here are more examples:

  • I wish I had less responsibilities on my plate. I am overwhelmed with my workload. 
  • These seats are extremely uncomfortable. I wish we were travelling business class.
  • Lotta wishes she were more experienced. With only two years of work experience, she has little chance of promotion. 
  • If only we could continue working remotely. I am not a big fan of the hybrid workplace model. 
  • I’ve just been tasked with a report due tomorrow. If only I had more time to prepare it. 
  1. We can also use I wish / If only with a modal verb would followed by a bare infinitive (basic form of a verb) to express a wish for the future, emphasising the contrast between how things are and how we would like them to be. This form is often used to show our annoyance with a particular situation or behaviour and our wish for it to change, e.g.
  • The noise of the printer gives me a headache. I wish it would stop. 
  • If only you would listen to my advice. I feel like talking to a brick wall. 
  • If only they would talk to each other and resolve the conflict amicably. 
  1. To express our regret about something that happened or did not happen in the past, we use I wish / If only + PAST PERFECT SIMPLE or CONTINUOUS. 
  • I wish I had studied business in college.
  • They wish they hadn’t invested so much money in that startup.
  • Sam wishes he had been paying more attention during the company tour on his first day of work. 
  • If only I had listened to my colleague’s advice.
  • If only we hadn’t neglected that safety protocol. 
  • If only it hadn’t been raining all the time, we would have had a chance to sightsee Paris while on a business trip.