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In this Masterclass, Dan's going to show you the complete use of the verb 'wish'.

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BBC Masterclass

The complete 'wish'

The word 'wish' has 5 uses in English - and today we're going to cover them all!

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Dan
I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish… Oh! It only works if you know the grammar rules! I completely forgot. So here is the complete ‘wish’. Wish has five uses in English and today we’re going to cover them all. Are you ready? Go!

1. Wish for present or past that isn’t real. 

This is the most common form of wish. It’s when we wish for a situation in the present or past to change, but we know that it can’t change because it’s impossible. 

‘I wish I were taller.’ (because I am not tall) Or: ‘I wish I had eaten ice-cream for breakfast this morning.’ (because I didn’t eat ice cream for breakfast this morning).

I wish I were taller
is an example of a present wish. It is ‘wish’ plus the past simple. We often use ‘were’ instead of ‘was’ for all pronouns because of the subjunctive. I could also say:

‘I wish I knew how to speak Chinese.’ (because I don’t know how to speak Chinese.)

I wish I had eaten ice-cream for breakfast this morning is an example of a past wish. This morning is a past time; we make a past wish. ‘Wish’ is followed by the past perfect, which is had plus the past participle. That indicates true past time. Did you get it?

2. Wish for an irritation that can change.

Another common form of wish is to use ‘wish’ plus would plus the bare infinitive. And this is often in regards to other people and our irritation. For example:

‘I wish you would make the bed!’

This is a present wish, but unlike the wishes I discussed before, this wish means ‘I believe you can change and something can be done’. Compare:

‘I wish you would make the bed,’ means ‘I think you can, but you don't, so please do.'
‘I wish you made the bed’ means ‘you don't and I don’t think you ever will so…

It is extremely uncommon to use a first person ‘I’ in this form of wish. This is because we have control over our own actions, so to say: 

‘I wish I would stop talking,’  means I want to stop talking, and I believe I can stop talking, so why don’t I?’

However, in terms of an illness or an addiction, this form is fine. When I say 'I wish I would stop smoking' it means 'I don’t want to smoke anymore, but I can’t stop because I’m addicted.' Someone give me a cigarette! Did you get it?

3. Wish to want

Wish followed by the full infinitive is a formal way of saying want. It’s not very common, and only used in special circumstances, for example, when you want to make a polite formal complaint. For example: ‘I wish to see the manager.

We can also use wish followed by ‘for’ to attach an object that you want. And this is most often used in the circumstances of magic. For example: ‘I wish for a pizza.’ Got it?

4. Wish to send ‘good vibrations’.

We can use the verb wish followed by two objects, the first of which is most often a pronoun, to send ‘good vibrations’ to somebody. This is more common than hope and it is used in fixed phrases such as: 

‘I wish you luck for your exam tomorrow.’ or ‘We wish you a merry Christmas.’ Got it?

5. Wish for the future.

This is a trick, because apart from sending good vibrations, as mentioned before, we cannot use the verb 'wish' in this way. We need another verb, and the verb is 'hope'. And this is usually followed by 'will' plus the infinitive. So, for example:

‘I hope you will pass your exam.’

Got it? Did you get it? Of course you got it! Now for more information please log on to bbclearningenglish.com. I’ve been Dan, you’ve been fantastic. I hope to see you next time, ok? Now. I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish… it works! Hahahaha!

Summary

1. 'Wish' for a present or past that isn't real.

This use of wish is for present or past situations that we want to change, but we understand that they can't.

I wish I were taller. (in reality, I am not tall)
I wish I had eaten ice-cream for breakfast this morning. (in reality, I didn’t eat ice cream for breakfast this morning)

I wish I were taller is an example of a present wish. It is 'wish' plus the past simple. We often use ‘were’ instead of ‘was’ for all pronouns because of the subjunctive (For example: I wish I were, I wish you were, I wish he were...). I could also say:

I wish I knew how to speak Chinese. (in reality, I don’t know how to speak Chinese.)

I wish I had eaten ice-cream for breakfast this morning is an example of a past wish. 'This morning' is a past time; we make a past wish. ‘Wish’ is followed by the past perfect, which is 'had' plus the past participle. That indicates true past time.

Negatives and questions are also possible:

I wish you weren't so selfish.
I wish I hadn't left my keys at work.
Do you wish you knew how to drive?
Do you wish you had worked harder at school?

2. 'Wish' for an irritation that can change.

Another common form of wish is to use ‘wish’ plus 'would' plus the bare infinitive (verb without 'to'). And this is often in regards to other people and our irritation. For example:

I wish you would make the bed!
I wish people wouldn't throw litter on the street.

This is a present wish, but unlike the wishes I discussed before, this wish means ‘I believe you can change and something can be done’. Compare:

I wish you would make the bed. Thismeans ‘I think you can, but you don't, so please do'.
I wish you made the bed. This means ‘You don't make the bed and I don’t think you ever will so…’

It is extremely uncommon to use a first person ‘I’ in this form of wish. This is because we have control over our own actions ourselves, so to say: 

I wish I would stop talking. This means 'I want to stop talking, and I believe I can, so why don’t I?’

However, in terms of an illness or an addiction, this form is fine. When I say I wish I would stop smoking it means 'I don’t want to smoke anymore, but I can’t stop because I’m addicted'

3. 'Wish' = 'want'

'Wish' followed by the full infinitive (to + verb) is a formal way of saying want. It’s not very common, and only used in special circumstances, for example, when you want to make a polite formal complaint. For example: 

I wish to see the manager.

We can also use 'wish' followed by ‘for’ to attach an object that you want. And this is most often used in the circumstances of magic. For example: 

I wish for a pizza.

4. 'Wish' to send ‘good vibrations’.

We can use the verb 'wish' followed by two objectsthe first of which is most often a pronoun, to send ‘good vibrations’ to somebody. This is more common than hope and it is used in fixed phrases such as: 

I wish you luck for your exam tomorrow.
We wish you a merry Christmas.

5. Don't use 'wish' for the future.

Apart from sending 'good vibrations', as mentioned before, we cannot use the verb 'wish' to talk about the futureWe need another verb, and the verb is hope. And this is usually followed by 'will' plus the bare infinitive (verb without 'to'). So, for example:

I hope you will pass your exam.

A quiz based on the video "The complete wish"

7 Questions

Choose the correct sentence for each 'wish' situation.

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End of Session

That wraps up this week’s Masterclass. We hope that it has been useful, and we wish you all the best in your studies!

Next

Join us in Session 2 for News Review, where you can pick up key language from the latest stories and find out how to use it in your everyday English.

Session Grammar

  • 5 uses of 'wish' 

    1. 'Wish' for a present or past that isn't real.
    Wish + past tense verb (present wish) OR wish + had + past participle verb (past wish). Use this for present or past situations that we want to change, but can't.

    I wish I were taller.
    I wish I had eaten ice-cream for breakfast this morning.

    2. 'Wish' for an irritation that can change.
    Wish + would + bare infinitive (wish for something that CAN change.)

    I wish you would make the bed!
    I wish people wouldn't throw litter on the street.

    Don't say: I wish I would... unless you have an addiction or illness.

    I wish I would stop smoking!

    3. 'Wish' = 'want'.
    Wish + full infinitive OR wish + for + noun

    I wish to see the manager.
    I wish for a pizza.

    4. 'Wish' to send ‘good vibrations’.
    wish + object 1 (pronoun) + object 2

    I wish you luck for your exam tomorrow.
    We wish you a merry Christmas. 

    5. Use 'hope' instead  of 'wish' for the future.
    hope + will + bare infinitive

    I hope you will pass your exam.