How to Use 'Wish'

Wishes about the present or future

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Wish + (that) + past simple:
We can use 'wish' to talk about something that we would like to be different in the present or the future. It's used for things which are impossible or very unlikely. (*In formal writing, you will see 'were' instead of 'was' after wish. This is correct, but it's also fine to use 'was', in the same way as with the second conditional. We also use 'wish' with 'could' to talk about things in the present or future that we would like to be different. In this situation, 'could' is the past simple of 'can'.

Of course, we use 'can' to talk about ability - if we know how to do something or not. For example, 'I can speak Spanish' or 'I can't drive'. We also use 'can' to talk about possibility - if things are possible or not possible. For example, 'we can't come to the party tonight' or 'John can help you clean up'. We use 'could' with 'wish' to talk about ability and to talk about possibility. Try an exercise about 'wish' here.

We don't usually use 'wish' in this way for things that are really possible in the future. Instead, we use 'hope'. Read more about 'hope' here. Wish + (that) + would:
On the other hand, we use 'would' with 'wish' in a little bit of a special way. It's generally used about other people who are doing (or not doing) something that we don't like and we want that person to change. It's not usually used about ourselves, or about something which nobody can change though, exceptionally, we do use it about the weather. We don't usually use 'would' when there's no feeling that we want somebody to change their behaviour.

Wishes about the past

Wish + (that) + past perfect:
We can use 'wish' with the past perfect to talk about regrets from the past. These are things that have already happened but we wish they'd happened in a different way. This use of 'wish' is very similar to the third conditional.

Other uses of 'wish'

Wish + to + infinitive:
We can use 'wish' with the infinitive to mean 'would like'. This is very formal. We don't usually use a continuous tense with 'wish' in this case. Wish + object + to + infinitive:
In the same way, we can use 'wish' with an object and an infinitive. Wish + somebody + something:
This is used mostly in set phrases.
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