Grammar Time: Wishes and Regrets

We often speak about our wishes and regrets. We use wish to say that we regret something, that something is not as we would like it. Regret is a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish that it could have been different and better.

Exam in Mind Level B1/B2

We canot use a present tense verb with ‘I wish’ speaking about our wishes and regrets.

Present Wishes and Regrets

Wishes and regrets for the present / future use a past tense verb or a modal verb with an infinitive. When we make a wish, we change the form of the verb that we are using from positive to negative, or vice versa.

For example:
I am poor. I don’t like this and I want to be rich. To express this as a wish we can say:
“I wish I wasn’t poor.” or we can change the adjective and say: “I wish I was rich.”

If only

We can use if only instead of I wish with very similar meaning. The only difference is that if only is more emphatic.

  • If only I was/were a bit taller!
  • If only you had followed my advice.
  • If only you would make a bit of an effort. You are wasting your life!

WISH + PAST SIMPLE expresses a desire for the present situation to be different when we make a wish about possessions or to change a state.

Wishes relating to states

  • I wish I was rich! (I am not rich! This is a wish relating to a present state, not an action)
  • I wish I wasn’t here! (I am here! A wish relating to a state, not an action)
  • I wish I knew what to do! (I don’t know what to do! A wish relating to a state, not an action)
  • I wish I had her phone number! (I don’t have her number! A wish about possession, not an action)
  • I wish I lived in America! (I don’t live there! A wish relating to a state, not an action)
  • I wish I didn’t smoke. (I smoke! A wish relating to a state – being a person who smokes)

wish + would (wouldn’t) relating to actions

wish + would + bare infinitive is used to express impatience, annoyance or dissatisfaction with a present action

If our wishes and regrets relate to actions that are performed by other people, we use wish with + would/wouldn’t and a verb infinitive.

  • I wish he would stop talking! (He never stops talking! A wish relating to an action)
  • I wish it would stop raining! (It is raining and it won’t stop! I’m impatient because it is raining and I want to go outside.)
  • I wish he wouldn’t leave his clothes on the floor! (He does leave his clothes on the floor)
  • I wish you would stop smoking. (You are smoking at the moment and it is annoying me.)

We CANNOT use this structure to wish about ourselves (do NOT use I wish I would). If the wish is for an action that we wish for ourselves, we use ‘could’ instead of ‘would’.

  • I wish I could swim. (I can’t swim. A wish relating to ability)
  • I wish I could remember her name! (I can’t remember. A wish relating to ability)
  • I wish I didn’t have to go to work today. (I must work. A wish relating to permission/ability etc)

If we wish for opportunity, ability, capability or permission, we use ‘could’ and a verb infinitive.

  • He wishes he could afford a holiday.
  • I wish he could tell jokes.
  • I wish they could help us.

To talk about repeated actions which we do not like, we use would/wouldn’t + keep + …ing to emphasise the repeated or continual nature of the action:

  • I wish she wouldn’t keep talking about her children! (She constantly talks about her children)
  • I wish he wouldn’t keep parking his car outside my house, it’s inconsiderate. (He always does this)
  • I wish she wouldn’t keep shouting. I’m not deaf! (She always shouts.)

We can also use ‘always + verb infinitive’ for a similar meaning: I wish she wouldn’t always shout. I’m not deaf.

Expressing Annoyance

We can use wish + person/thing + would + infinitive when we talk about situations that annoy us and we would like them to change, or to stop. We often feel that they are unlikely or unwilling to change.

  • I wish you would stop biting your nails. I hate it when you do it.
  • I wish it would stop raining. It’s been three days!
  • I wish you wouldn’t borrow my clothes without asking.
  • She wishes he’d work less. They never spend any time together.
  • You’re so slow; I wish you would hurry up. (= ‘Please hurry up!’)
  • I wish she’d be quiet. (I am annoyed because she is speaking.)

We can use wish + would to express our annoyance that something will not happen.

  • I wish the weather would improve – it’s so cold and wet. (= ‘It doesn’t look as if the weather will improve.’)
  • I wish it would rain. The garden really needs some water.
  • I wish it would stop raining.

We use wish + wouldn’t to give an order or make a request in a critical way.

  • I wish you wouldn’t make so much noise – I’m trying to watch this film.
  • I wish you wouldn’t wear that hat – it really doesn’t suit you.

Past Wishes and Regrets

We can use WISH + subject + PAST PERFECT to talk about something we would like to change about the past, to talk about things that happened in the past and that we regret (we would have wanted them to be different).

  • They wish they hadn’t eaten so much chocolate. They’re feeling very sick now.
  • If only I’d studied harder when I was at school.
  • I wish I hadn’t quit my job two years ago.
  • I wish we hadn’t wasted all that money.

When we speak about things that DID NOT happen in the past, but which we wish were true, we use this form: I wish + subject + had + verb past participle.

  • I went to University in Oxford, but now I regret it. Cambridge is a better University. We can say: “I wish I had gone to Cambridge University.”
  • Manchester United lost to Barcelona in the Champions League. I wanted Manchester to win. We can say: “I wish Manchester had beaten Barcelona.”

If we wish about past possessions or past ability/capability/permission/opportunity etc, we use this form:
I wish + subject + could + have + past participle 

  • I didn’t go to the cinema with you because I was working. I was unable to go. We can say: “I wish I could have gone to the cinema with you.”
  • I wanted to live in America when I was a boy, but my parents chose to live in the UK. We can say: “I wish I could have lived in America.” (‘I wish I had lived in the USA’ is also correct, but gives less information.)

Sometimes, the same wish can be expressed both ways, depending on the reasons:

  • I wish I had gone to Cambridge University. (I decided to go to Oxford) or: I wish I could have gone to Cambridge University. (They refused to accept me, so I was unable)
  • I wish I had gone to the cinema with you last night. (It was a mistake, which I regret.) or: I wish I could have gone to the cinema with you last night. (I was working so I was unable to go.)

When we speak about states or things that DID happen in the past, but which we wish were not true, we use this form:
I wish + subject + had + not + verb past participle  We do not use ‘could’ with this negative form.

  • I went to University in Oxford, but now I regret it. Cambridge is a better University. We can say: “I wish I hadn’t gone to Oxford University.”
  • Manchester United lost against Barcelona in the Champions League. I wanted Manchester to win. We can say: “I wish Manchester hadn’t lost to Barcelona.”
  • I forgot to write to her. Now she is unhappy with me. We can say: “I wish I hadn’t forgotten to write to her.”
  • I resigned from my job, but now I am unemployed. It was a mistake. We can say: “I wish I hadn’t resigned from my job.”
  • I was tired when I met Susan, so I didn’t talk a lot. Now she thinks I’m boring. We can say: “I wish I hadn’t been tired when I met Susan.”

Have Practice: Wishes and Regrets

Task 1. Write sentences with I wish + would/‌wouldn’t, as in the example.

Example: It annoys me that you don’t tidy your room regularly. – I wish you would tidy your room regularly.
It annoys me that Peter drives so slowly. – I wish Peter wouldn’t drive so slowly.

  1. It annoys me that the weather is rainy every day.
  2. It annoys me that Susie doesn’t visit me on Sundays.
  3. It annoys me that Henry always tells his silly jokes.
  4. It annoys me that Philip always wears the same tie.
  5. It annoys me that you are so naughty.
  6. It annoys me that you don’t listen to me carefully.
  7. It annoys me that Sophia buys so many useless things.
  8. It annoys me that Ernest speaks so loudly.
  9. It annoys me that you leave your stuff on my bed.
  10. It annoys me that the bus doesn’t come.
  11. It annoys me that Monique doesn’t help me with my homework.
  12. It annoys me that Robin has so many strange acquaintances.
  13. It annoys me that Stuart makes so many spelling mistakes in his messages.
  14. It annoys me that you don’t know how to explain this rule.
  15. It annoys me that my sister spends a lot of time on the Internet.
  16. It annoys me that you refuse to play chess with me.I
  17. t annoys me that Vicky’s clothes are old-fashioned.
  18. It annoys me that Rosie is late for work.
  19. It annoys me that you interrupt me.
  20. It annoys me that your friends are so arrogant.

Task 2. Wishes and Regrets. Coose the correct option to complete the sentences.

  1. I wish you _______________ quiet – I’m trying to listen to the radio.
    a. will be
    b. would be
    c. were
    d. are
  2. I want to play tennis – I wish it _______________ raining.
    a. stopped
    b. stops
    c. would stop
    d. will stop
  3. I wish you _______________ – we’re going to be late.
    a. will hurry up
    b. would hurry up
    c. hurried up
    d. are hurrying up
  4. You’re driving far too fast. I wish you _______________ a bit.
    a. would slow down
    b. slowed down
    c. wouldn’t slow down
    d. will slow down
  5. I wish your sister _______________ asking to borrow money. It’s very annoying and we’ve already lent her a lot.
    a. would keep
    b. wouldn’t keep
    c. won’t keep
    d. doesn’t keep
  6. Where’s John? I wish that he _______________ and get here.
    a. will hurry up
    b. hurried up
    c. would hurry up
    d. are hurrying up
  7. Mike Smith’s a bad influence on you. I wish you _______________ so much time with him.
    a. won’t spend
    b. don’t spend
    c. wouldn’t spend
    d. haven’t spent
  8. I wish you _______________ so much. It’s really unhealthy.
    a. won’t smoke
    b. don’t smoke
    c. wouldn’t smoke
    d. haven’t smoked
  9. Alison’s nice, but she’s so nosey. I wish she _______________ so many questions.
    a. isn’t asking
    b. won’t ask
    c. wouldn’t ask
    d. doesn’t ask

Task 3. Choose the correct option to complete the sentences.

1.If only they _______________ you for advice before they started the project. You’re the expert!

a. would ask
b. had asked
c. asked

2. He wishes he _______________ back in time and visit Ancient Rome.

a. would travel
b. could travel
c. could have travelled

3. I wish she _______________ her shoes there. I’m always falling over them.

a. wouldn’t leave
b. left
c. wouldn’t have left

4. The traffic on the roads was terrible. I wish we _______________ the train instead!

a. would catch
b. caught
c. had caught

5. I’m not saying it again. I wish _______________ when I’m talking.

a. you listen
b. you’ll listen
c. you’d listen

6. If only I _______________ the time off work, I’d come and visit you.

a. could take
b. would take
c. took

7. I’m so tired. I wish I _______________ home earlier last night.

a. had gone
b. went
c. would have gone

8. We’re having such a lovely time in Scotland. If only it _______________ all the time, though!

a. hadn’t rained
b. had rained
c. didn’t rain

Task 4. Wishes and Regrets. Choose the best choice to complete each sentence.

  1. I wish _______________ to my father.
    a. I had listened
    b. had listen
    c. I listen
    d. I have listened
  2. I wish it _______________ snowing.
    a. could stopped
    b. would stop
    c. would
    d. would stopped
  3. I wish I _______________ so old.
    a. would
    b. had not
    c. am
    c. was not
  4. I wish I _______________ the train.
    a. were taken
    b. have took
    c. had taken
    d. would taken
  5. I wish I _______________ a day off.
    a. could taken
    b. had take
    c. would taken
    d. could take
  6. I wish the prices _______________ so expensive.
    a. would not
    b. was not
    c. were not
    d. have not

Task 5. Wishes and Regrets. Fill in the blanks with the correct forms of the verbs in brackets.

  1. I wish I _______________ (be) the manager of this company.
  2. Peter wishes he _______________ (not buy) that car. It breaks down so often and causes him trouble.
  3. Asley’s mother wishes she _______________ (do) well in the final exams next week.
  4. Larry wishes he _______________ (be) on a spa holiday relaxing rather than working in the office now.
  5. Mary feels homesick. She wishes she _______________ (be) in her home with her parents now.
  6. I wish you _______________ (bring) me a glass of water. I am very thirsty.
  7. Karen wishes her father _______________ (not go) to France on business. She misses him.
  8. It was a very hot and sunny. I wish I _______________ (take) my sunglasses and sunlotion with me.
  9. You look overweight. I wish you _______________ (attend) a gym this summer.
  10. My father wishes he _______________ (not forget) to take the camera with him. The view was wonderful.
  11. Joseph wishes he _______________ (not cheat) in the exam. The teacher was very angry with him.
  12. I wish I _______________ (not speak) so loudly. My baby brother woke up.
  13. Michael wishes his father _______________ (give) him £100 for the school trip next month.
  14. Mr.Parker wishes there _______________ (not be) mosquitoes around. They bite him badly.
  15. I wish people _______________ (not cut) the trees any more.
  16. My mother wishes I _______________ (take) her to the hospital for her operation this weekend.
  17. Timothy wishes she _______________ (not eat) too many strawberries. She has got a terrible stomachache.
  18. Pam wishes she _______________ (have) an mp3 player. She could listen to music now.
  19. I wish I _______________ (know) more about cooking. I have to prepare something special for my guests.
  20. We wish we _______________ (win) the match next Sunday. We will be this year’s champion then.
  21. The students wish they _______________ (study) more. They all got bad marks from the maths exam.