Intermediate Grammar: How to use “wish”

Minoura, one of our Facebook friends, has asked us about the grammar rules of using “wish”.

The verb “wish” expresses a desire for a situation that doesn’t exist now.

1. Wish + Simple Past

We use “wish” + simple past to express that we want a situation in the present (or future) to be different.

“I wish I lived in Spain” – Right now this person does not live in Spain but would like to in the present.
“He wished he had a Lambourghini” – Right now this person does not have a lambourghini but want one in the present.
“They wish it was June” – Right now it’s May and they still have to wait a month to go on holiday in the future.

2. Wish + Past Continuous

We use “wish” + past continuous to express that we want to be doing a different activity in the present (or the future).

“I wish I was eating Spanish food in Barcelona” – Right now this person is in the office, they would like to be in Spain, eating tapas, in the present.
“He wished he was driving a Lambourghini in Paris” – Right now this person is also in an office, they want to be driving, in the present.
“They wish they were leaving tomorrow to go on holiday” – They aren’t going on holiday, in the future, but would like to.

3. Wish + Past Perfect

We use “wish” + past perfect to express regret. This means we want to be able to change a situation in the past.

“I wish I hadn’t eaten so much chocolate” – This person ate too much chocolate, feels sick and would like to go back to the past and change it.
“He wished his Dad had bought him a Lambourghini for his birthday” –  This person would have liked a car for his birthday, in the past.
“They wish they had studied more for their exam” – They didn’t study and now would like to go back and study more.

4. Wish + Would

We use “wish” + would + infinitive to express dissatisfaction with the present situation.

“I wish you would stop making so much noise” – The person wants the other to stop making noise.
“He wished his dog would behave” – The dog is barking and he wants it to stop.


We can also use “wish” to express “want” in a formal situation, for example, we can say “I wish to talk to the headmaster”. We do this by saying “wish” + infinitive.

Finally, we can use subject + wish + someone as a fixed expression to congratulate them or desire them well. For example: “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, “My parents wish you a Happy Birthday”, “I wish you good luck in your new job”, “She wishes her sister the best of happiness”.

We hope this lesson helped you understand how to use “wish”. And remember, if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section!

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About the author  ⁄ Kate

I have taught English for 9 years. I currently work for ABA English but I also teach English Tamil Nadu in the south of India. I love vegan cooking, walking my dog Toby in the park and anything to do with social media!

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  • Reply
    30 September 2013

    Use of wish: Please correct the rule you stated on your blog. “Wish + Past Participle” is not correct. “Wish + Simple Past” is the corrcet rule for “I wish I lived…” I wish I were…”

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    Beth Peralta
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    Your rule # 1 is not correct. It should be “wish + simple past” NOT “wish + past participle”. Please make the necessary correction to avoid confusing ESL students. Thank you

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    9 April 2014

    I think that the 2nd example for number 1 should be “He wishes he had a Lambourghini” because “wished” is past, so it’s not a situation in the present (or future).

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