How to use WISH in English

How to use WISH in English

How do we use the verb WISH in English?

The verb WISH in English is very useful, because we use it to talk about things we want to change but can’t. There are different reasons for this. Sometimes, an event is not in our control or it has already happened, so it’s too late to change!

However, the grammatical structure can be a bit confusing, so we’re going to learn how to use WISH in English by first looking at the difference between I WISH I WERE and I WISH I WAS.

I WISH I WAS or I WISH I WERE? Learn English with Dan

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So we use the verb WISH to talk about things we would like to be different but we cannot change. Why can we not change them? Well, either we don’t have the power to change them or they happened in the past, so it’s too late to change them!

Let’s start with a simple example: I WISH I WERE taller. I WISH I WERE taller. Let’s look at this phrase carefully to understand it. I WISH I WERE taller. What does it mean? Firstly, this is a situation I would like to change. I’m not tall or I’m not tall enough. I want to be taller. Can I change this situation? No! I can’t stretch my body to be taller! I can’t eat special food to be taller. So this is a situation I can’t change.

I WISH I WERE taller

Secondly, am I talking about now, the present? Or am I talking about the past? Well, this is a wish about the present. I want to change this situation now. I’m not happy now, in the present. So, we use WISH followed by the verb in the past, in this case WERE, from the verb TO BE. So we don’t say I wish I am, we say I WISH I WERE. That is because this is not a real situation. So in English, we use the verb in the past to talk about an unreal situation in the present, in this case: I WISH I WERE.

Now you might think, why do we use WERE and not WAS? I WISH I WAS? I WAS, YOU WERE, right? Well, the simple answer is that you could use either. They are both possible. You can say: I WISH I WERE or I WISH I WAS and everyone will understand you. In fact, it’s very common for people to say I WISH I WAS. It sounds more informal and you’ll hear people using it when they’re speaking all the time.

“I Wish” by Skee-Lo

So, I WISH I WERE taller, or I WISH I WAS taller. However, grammatically it is more correct to say I WISH I WERE, because this is not a real situation.

OK, that’s how you talk about a wish or desire in the present, a situation you can’t change. Remember, use the verb WISH followed by the verb in the past, in this example I WISH I WERE or I WISH I WAS, if you want to sound a bit more informal. I WISH I WERE taller, I WISH I WERE smarter, I WISH I WERE richer, I WISH I WERE faster, I WISH I WERE stronger! What examples can you think of?

If you want to learn about how we use I WISH and IF ONLY, then watch this video lesson here where I explain in a bit more detail. Basically, IF ONLY sounds stronger than I WISH, so it’s good if you really want to express a strong regret.

Check out these great songs here that use the phrase I WISH I WERE and also the more informal I WISH I WAS. Then write your own example sentences in the comments below.

“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd

“I Wish I Were Blind” by Bruce Springsteen

“Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was” by Radiohead

So we’ve just looked at using the verb WISH to talk about unreal situations in the present. Things that we would like to change now, but we can’t. Now let’s look at the difference between a wish in the present and a wish in the past. What’s the difference? How does the sentence change?

I WISH I KNEW and I WISH I HAD KNOWN Learn English with Dan

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Let’s use the example I WISH I KNEW from the verb TO KNOW. So as you remember from the last lesson, to make a wish about the present, we need to use the verb in the past, because this is not a real situation. It’s what we call a hypothetical situation, which means unreal. We are imagining this situation. I WISH I KNEW.

For example, I WISH I KNEW the answer, I WISH I KNEW the answer. This means I don’t know the answer now, but I really want to know now! Maybe I’m doing an exam and it’s very hard, so I think to myself I WISH I KNEW the answer! Unfortunately I don’t, and I can’t change this situation, because I’m doing the exam now and I can’t check!

Now, imagine the exam is now finished and I’m worried that I did very badly. I think I probably failed the exam because I didn’t know the answer during the exam. I’m now making a wish about the past. So if we use the verb in the past to talk about a present wish, we use the verb in the past perfect to talk about a past wish, like this: I WISH I HAD KNOWN the answer, I WISH I HAD KNOWN the answer.

This is now a wish about the past and the past is finished so there is nothing we can do to change the past (unless you have a time machine!) so I say to myself: I WISH I HAD KNOWN the answer. That’s WISH followed by the past perfect, in this case HAD KNOWN.

So, I WISH I KNEW the answer (a wish about the present) and I WISH I HAD KNOWN the answer (a wish about the past). And just a quick point about pronunciation. To make it quicker and easier to pronounce, we often say: I WISH I’D KNOWN, I WISH I’D KNOWN, so HAD is a weak sound.

‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free’ by Nina Simone

‘I Wish I Had Known’ by Sandra Phillips

Practise using the verb WISH in the comments below. Tell us about all the things you WISH YOU KNEW and you WISH YOU HAD KNOWN. We often think about life and discuss our regrets, so this is a great way to do it.

If you want to learn about other verbs just like WISH in English, then take one of the free courses here on ANGLOPOD.COM. Also, you can go to ANGLOPOD+ to watch English video lessons on demand!

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How do we use I WISH I WERE in English?

We use I WISH I WERE in English to talk about things we would like to change in the present, for example “I wish I were taller”. This is something we cannot control, so we use ‘I wish’ plus the verb ‘to be’ in the past.

What’s the difference between I WISH I WERE and I WISH I WAS in English?

Both are possible in English. I WISH I WAS is actually more common and sounds more informal, but I WISH I WERE is grammatically more correct because it is referring to a situation that is not real, or hypothetical.

What’s the difference between I WISH I KNEW and I WISH I HAD KNOWN in English?

We use I WISH I KNEW to express that we don’t know something important in the present, but we use I WISH I HAD KNOWN for something important we didn’t know in the past. Both situations are hypothetical, or unreal, meaning we can’t change them and we feel frustrated about that fact.

What’s the difference between I WISH and IF ONLY?

Generally, IF ONLY sounds stronger than I WISH, so it’s good if you really want to express a strong regret. For example, “IF ONLY I WERE taller” sounds a much bigger regret than “I WISH I WERE taller”.

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