Grammar. 22.12.2010
Grammar Teacher

Английская грамматика: I wish / If only

Автор: Grammar Teacher

Let us act on what we have, since we have not what we wish.

Cardinal J. Newman
Проходят последние дни 2010 г., песчинка за песчинкой уходят в вечность... А мы шагаем вперед, переходим очередной рубеж... Что там впереди? Об этом мы спросим завтра, а сегодня давайте-ка совершим путешествие по уже пройденным тропам. Нет, я не навязываю вам ностальгию, потому что это в конце концов такая же болезнь, как и все, - скорее предлагаю провести ретроспективный анализ уходящего. Все ли замыслы осуществлены? И был ли, собственно, смысл в их осуществлении? А может быть, стоило делать все с точностью наоборот? Много есть о чем жалеть? И следует ли вообще о чем-либо сожалеть? Я, например, уже привыкла к тому, что замыслы мои - это мыльные пузыри: их вылетает множество, но тают они быстро, только увидев первое попавшееся препятствие. Лишь один-два из них (чаще всего «глобальные») взлетают высоко. Поэтому, наверное, у меня так много "I wish...":

I wish I thought profoundly before taking a serious step!
If only I had a clear idea of where to direct my energy!
I wish there had been someone to reveal me the truth.
I wish I kept a journal. Memory is faulty.
If only I could distinguish between the important and non-important…


The use of the verb ‘wish’ in this case indicates that the speaker wants reality to be different. His wishes are just opposite the reality. ‘Wish’ and ‘If only’ are both used to talk about regrets – things that we would like to change either about the past or the present. To express wishes for unlikely or impossible situations and to express regrets, we use WISH + constructions with would, could, was, were or past tenses.


The verb to wish is followed by THE PAST SIMPLE tense when we want to talk about situations IN THE PRESENT that we are not happy about but cannot change:

I wish/If only I knew the answer to your question (but I don’t ….)
I wish/If only I didn't have to work for a living (but I have to…)

We use past tense here although we refer to the present (or future). In other words, we 'go one tense back'. In such a way we express a hypothetical nature of our wishes and desires:

I wish/If only Tessa was/were here now
I wish/If only the sun was/were shining at this moment
(past progressive)
Note that was and were are fully interchangeable with first, second and third person pronouns, singular and plural. Arguably, were sounds more formal than was, and it has the effect of making a wish even more doubtful.




Английская грамматика: I wish / If only

There is a wonderful story by author James Howe called "I Wish I Were A Butterfly." In this story a cricket is not happy with who he is. He considers himself very ugly. He wishes that he were a butterfly because he says that there is always beauty in a butterfly. When he meets other insects along the way they tell him that wishing is a waste of time. Until one special friend goes with him to the water's edge, he looks back at his reflection and realizes to his surprise that the ugliness had faded. Finally he is happy being a cricket. It’s a beautiful story about finding the beauty within ourselves. 

Look, what some children wished…

Deniel: I wish I were an engineer because it helps other trains; Travis: I wish I were "Robin" because I could save people.


Ashe: I wish I were a Sleeping Beauty because she is beautiful; Charlotte: I wish I were an ice-cream cone because they're yummy.


When we want to talk about situations IN THE PAST that we are not happy about or actions that we regret, we use the verb to wish followed by THE PAST PERFECT:

I wish I had done more travelling in my youth.
I wish I had learned what the options were before entering university.

Again, note that we 'go one tense back'. We are talking about past regrets and dissatisfactions, but using THE PAST PERFECT, not PAST SIMPLE.
You can often hear people say: ‘If only I had known THEN what I know NOW...’ Unfortunately, history doesn’t have subjunctive mood…  Adrian Savage, an English writer and a retired business executive, has listed the 12 things he wishes he had known when he was younger.


1) Most of it doesn’t matter. There are only a few things that truly count for a happy life. I wish I had known to concentrate on those and ignore the rest.
2) The greatest source of misery and hatred in this world is clinging to past hurts.
3) Waiting to do something until you can be sure of doing it exactly right means waiting for ever.
4) Following the latest fashion, in work or in life, is spiritual and intellectual suicide.
5) If people complain that you’re too fond of going your own way and aren’t fitting in, you must be on the right track.
6) If you make your work your life, you’re making your life into hard work. Only idiots live to work.
7) The quickest and simplest way to wreck any relationship is to listen to gossip.
8) Trying to please other people is largely a futile activity. Those who love you will probably love you regardless, and they are the ones whose opinions are worth caring about. The rest aren’t worth five minutes of thought between them.
9) Every winner is destined to be a loser in due course. It’s great to be up on the winner’s podium. Just don’t imagine you can stay there forever.
10) You can rarely, if ever, please, placate, change, or mollify an asshole. The best thing you can do is stay away from every one you encounter. Being an asshole is a contagious disease. The more time you spend around one, the more likely you are to catch it and become one too.
11) Everything takes twice as long as you plan for and produces results about half as good as you hoped.
12) People are oddly consistent. Liars usually tell lies. Cheaters cheat whenever it suits them. A person who confides in you has usually confided in several others first—but not got the response they wanted. A loyal friend will stay loyal under enormous amounts of thoughtless abuse.

Though wish and if only are often used interchangeably, if only expresses more strongly the idea that the situation which we wish for does not exist, whereas wish is used for something that might happen.


This structure is used to express dissatisfaction or irritation because somebody keeps on doing something that you don't like:

I wish he would stop smoking. (= I don't like it, I want him to change it)
I wish you would go away. (= I don't want you here, I want you to take some action)
I wish you wouldn't squeeze the toothpaste from the middle! (= I want you to change your habits.)

I wish you would/wouldn’t often functions like a polite imperative:

I wish you would be quiet.
I wish you wouldn't make so much noise.

All of these refer to something you wish would happen NOW or at some point in the FUTURE. HOWEVER, it sounds a little strange and unnatural to use the same construction when talking about yourself! "I wish I would..." just sounds wrong. In English, the closest "natural sounding" way of wishing something for YOURSELF is by using:

Английская грамматика: I wish / If only - 2 "I WISH I COULD...":

For example:
Pink (“Who knew”):

I wish I could touch you again
I wish I could still call you a friend
I'd give anything…

So, we must use could and not would after I and We :

I wish I could be you.
If only we could be together
I wish I could swim.

Would expresses willingness, could expresses ability:

I wish he would come tomorrow (I don't know if he wants to)
I wish he could come tomorrow (I'm sure he can't)

Madonna in an interview to Us Weekly: "I wish Lourdes (her daughter) would dress more conservatively."
John Kerry: "I wish these voters would pay more attention."

In the song below will you recognize any I wish sentences?

And now why not share here what you wish you did or had done differently? Or maybe there’s something you wish somebody else would do differently or wouldn’t do at all?..

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