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Learners' Questions

Intermediate level

Past mistakes

Episode 191022 / 22 Oct 2019

This week's question

How do you talk about mistkes in the past? - Hani from Saudi Arabia

Answer this

Which is used for stronger regrets: 'wish' or 'if only'?

Language points

should + have + past participle
Using this combination puts the modal verb into the past and allows us to talk about mistakes made in the past. It works for could have, would have, should have and must have.

  • I shouldn't have left my job. (I made a mistake)
  • You should have stayed where you were. (You made a mistake)

Question form

  • Should I have stayed in my job?

Third conditional
This construction is used to talk about hypothetical results of past actions.

It's formed with if + subject + had(n't) + past participle, subject + would + have + past participle

  • If I hadn't left my job, I would have been paid this month.

'Wish' or 'if only'
This construction is used to talk about past regrets.

It's formed with (subject +) wish or if only + subject + had(n't) + past participle verb

  • I wish I hadn't quit my job.
  • If only I hadn't quit my job.

The answer

If only is used for stronger regrets.

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