English Level: Intermediate+
Focus: An overview of the rules between the verbs wish and hope
Worksheet Download: wish-hope-worksheet-esl.docx (scroll down to study the exercises online)
Put simply, this is the difference between hope and wish:
- The verb wish usually describes the present or the past.
- The verb hope usually describes a possible future situation.
Let’s look at the rules and some examples in detail.
The Verb Wish to Describe a Present Desire
Form: subject + wish + (that) + noun + past simple / past progressive
- I wish (that) I had more money now. (this describes a desire the present)
- She wishes (that) she were taller.
- He wishes (that) he didn’t have to work today.
- They wish (that) they could come.
- I wish (that) it wasn’t raining.
The verb wish used this way is the same as the present unreal conditional (second conditional). All of these sentences describe and unreal/imaginary situation that someone wants.
- John doesn’t have a car. He’s sad. = He wishes he had a car.
- I don’t have enough time :( = I wish I had more time.
- Her leg is broken. She’s sad. = She wishes her leg weren’t broken.
Even though the grammar is in the past tense (I wish I had more money), the meaning is in the present. Any wish can also be expressed in the second (present unreal) conditional.
- John wishes he had a car. = If John had a car, he would be happy.
- I wish I had more time. = If I had more time, I would be happy.
- She wishes her leg weren’t broken. = If her leg were not broken, she would be happy.
Grammar note: Just like in the second conditional, we don’t use was. Instead of saying, “I wish I was taller,” it is more correct (grammatically) to say “I wish I were taller.” These sentences, in the second conditional, would be “If I were taller, I would be happy.” The idea is the same. We generally don’t use was.
Remember, when we use wish, we always want for the opposite of the real situation now. Because of this, the verb changes from positive to negative, or negative to positive. Let me show you.
My dog is sick. :(
- The verb = is
- Verb in the past =
- Change to negative = weren’t
- The whole sentence = I wish my dog weren’t sick.
I can’t swim. :(
- The verb = can’t swim
- Verb in past = couldn’t swim
- Change to positive = could swim
- The whole sentence = I wish I could swim.
I’m gaining weight. :(
- The verb = am gaining (present progressive)
- Verb in past =
waswere gaining (past progressive)
- Change to negative = weren’t gaining
- The whole sentence = I wish I weren’t gaining weight.
It’s not that hard, is it? Let’s try some exercises.
Exercise #1 – Using Wish in the Present
Remember to avoid using was with wish. Good luck.
- John is poor. John wishes he (be/not) poor.
- My apartment is small. I wish it (be) bigger.
- She hates her job. She wishes she (have) a different one.
- I can’t sing. I wish I (can/sing).
- I have to get up early for my job. I wish I (not/have to) get up early.
- It’s raining now. I wish it (not/rain).
- I’m so tired. I wish I (sleep) now instead of working.
- The students have a lot of homework. They wish they (not/have) homework.
The Verb Wish + Would to Describe a Present Desire
I’ve just told you that we use a past tense verb (past simple or past progressive) after wish. However, we use the helping verb would when we wish that someone else would do an action.
- I wish you would listen. (It’s my wish, but I want you to do the action.)
- She wishes her husband wouldn’t leave the toilet seat up. (It’s her wish, but she’s wishing someone else do the action.)
- I wish the manager would do something. (Again, the wish is directed at someone else.)
We only use would when the verb is an action verb, not a state verb (for help with this, see this lesson). In short, action verbs are verbs like ‘kick/run/open/stop‘ that have an action (we move our bodies). Non-action verbs (stative or linking) are verbs like ‘have/be/know/understand‘ that describe a situation (or state), not an action. Here at some examples.
My friend John doesn’t have a job. He is poor. :(
- I wish he weren’t poor. (BE = state verb, so we don’t add would)
- I wish he had a job. (HAVE = state verb, so we don’t add would).
- I wish he would find a job. (Find = action verb, so we add would.)
- I wish he would look for a job. (Look = an action verb, so we add would.)
This is difficult, isn’t it? Remember, these are all wishes that the subject wishes someone else do. Let’s look at another example.
My dog Pepe is a bad dog. :(
- I wish he weren’t bad. (BE = state verb)
- I wish he wouldn’t chew on my shoes. (Chew = action)
- I wish he would listen. (Listen = action)
Do you see the difference? Let’s try some exercises.
Exercise #2 – Wishing Other People Do Things (Action or State Verbs)
Remember to only use would if it’s a wish that the wisher wants someone else to do, and if the verb is an action verb.
- My neighbour plays loud music. I wish he (turn) his music down. I’ve asked him to do so, but he won’t listen. I wish he (listen).
- Also, his dog barks all night. I wish the dog (not/bark) so much. I wish my neighbour (have) a pet fish, not a dog.
- Yesterday, someone parked in my parking space. I wish people (not/park) in my spot. There’s even a sign that says, “Reserved Parking”. I wish people (read) the sign.
- It’s expensive and troublesome to have a car in the city. Sometimes I wish I (not/have) a car. However, public transit is not very convenient here. I wish the government (build) more subway lines.
- English grammar is difficult sometimes. I wish it (be) easier.
Using Wish to Describe a Past Regret or Mistake
We can also use wish to talk about mistakes or regrets in the past.
Form: subject + wish + (that) + noun + past perfect*
(*Past perfect = had + past participle)
- I didn’t study enough when I was young. I wish I had studied more.
- I didn’t bring an umbrella. I wish I had brought an umbrella.
- She said something impolite. She wishes she hadn’t said it.
- My friend forgot my birthday. I wish he hadn’t forgotten.
The grammar for wishes in the past is the same as the past unreal conditional (third conditional). Again, when we wish, we are wishing for the opposite of reality. The verb describes the opposite of the situation.
Fact: I broke the dish. :(
- Verb = broke
- Verb in past perfect = had broken
- Change from positive to negative = hadn’t broken
- Full sentence = I wish I hadn’t broken the dish.
Fact: She didn’t tell me about the party. :(
- Verb = didn’t tell
- Verb in past perfect = hadn’t told
- Change from negative to positive = had told
- Full sentence = I wish she had told me.
That’s it for the past. Fortunately, we don’t use would when we talk about past wishes. So it’s pretty easy.
Exercise #3 – Wishes in the Past
- I didn’t wake up on time. I wish I (wake) up on time.
- Lisa arrived late. She wishes she (arrive) earlier.
- He forgot to bring his passport. He wishes he (bring) it.
- I painted my room black, but it looks terrible. I wish I (not/paint) it black.
- There was too much salt in the soup. I wish the chef (use) less salt.
- She told me the ending of the movie, so now I don’t want to see it. I wish I (not/speak) to her.
The Verb Hope to Describe a Future Desire
Form: Subject + [ hope ] + (that) + [ present tense ]
- I have a test tomorrow. I hope (that) I pass.
- John is looking for a job. He hopes (that) he gets a job soon.
- It’s cloudy. I hope (that) it does not rain.
- The movie starts soon. I hope (that) it is interesting.
All of these examples talk about something that we want to happen in the future (tomorrow, soon).
With the verb hope, we use the present simple tense even though we are talking about the future. However, some English speakers will use a future tense (which may not be good grammar), but is acceptable.
- I hope I pass = I hope I will pass.
- He hopes he gets a job = He hopes he will get a job.
- I hope it does not rain = I hope it won’t rain.
These sentences are all acceptable, even though they don’t follow the traditional rules of grammar. For the exercises below, please use a present tense, however.
Exercise #4 – Hope for Future Desires
- I hope there (be) never a war again.
- Tim hopes that he (get) a bicycle for Christmas.
- I hope that it (not/rain) tonight.
- Jenny hopes she (not/fail) her exam.
- I hope I (see) you at the party tonight.
Hope with a Past Action
Hope is sometimes used with past actions. For example:
- “Thanks for coming my party last night. I hope that you had a good time.”
- Karen had to rush to the airport. I hope (that) she remembered her passport.
In these sentences, hope has the same meaning it normally does: it describes a desire. Note the differences between hope in the past and wish in the past:
- I hope that you had a good time. (Meaning = You went to the party, and I desire that you had a good time (it’s what I want))
- I wish that you had had a good time. (Meaning = You went to the party, but did not have a good time. You regret this.)
- I hope that she remembered her passport. (Meaning = You desire that she remembered her passport.)
- I wish she had remembered her passport. (Meaning = She forgot her passport. You regret this.)
In summary, wish in the past expresses a regret about an action. Hope in the past, like hope in the future, describes a desire/want.
That’s the end of the lesson. There are a few more notes below that you can skip if you want to jump to more exercises.
Note #1: Don’t we Use Wish for the Future Too?
Not really. Look at this sentence:
- I wish I didn’t have to work tomorrow.
This is describing a present situation. You have to work tomorrow, and you are unhappy about that now. You wish the situation were different. If you didn’t have to work tomorrow, you would be happy now. This is still describing the present in my opinion. This is the same as when we use ‘want’ with the future (e.g. I want a bicycle for my birthday (next year)).
Note #2: ‘wish + infinitive‘ is also used as a more formal want to say ‘want to.’ For example, she wishes to see you.
Note #3: ‘hope + infinitive‘ can also be used when the subject of the sentence is the person who will do the action.
- I hope that I pass. = I hope to pass.
- He hopes that he doesn’t fail. = He hopes not to fail.
- I hope that he passes.
= I hope he to pass.(You cannot use it here)
Note #4: ‘wish + noun’ is used to say that you hope someone has something in the future. For example:
- I wish you a Merry Christmas. ( = I hope you have a Merry Christmas.)
- I wish you a quick recovery. ( = I hope you recover soon).
Now, let’s try some exercises to see if you can use the correct verb.
Exercise #5 – Wish or Hope? Write the Verb
- John failed his test. He he had studied more. He he passes his next one.
- My apartment is small. I I had a bigger apartment. I I didn’t live here.
- Ryan has a soccer game tomorrow. He his team wins. The game might be cancelled though, if it rains. He it doesn’t rain.
- Tina doesn’t like Donald Trump. She he had not won the election. She that he doesn’t destroy the world.
Exercise #6 – Wish or Hope? Add the Correct Verb and Clause
- Tina is single. She doesn’t have a boyfriend, but she wants one. In other words, Tina (wish/hope) she (have) boyfriend.
- My sister bought a suitcase last week. But when she took it on her travels, it broke. She regrets buying it. In other words, she (wish/hope) she (not/buy) it.
- My friends are always looking at their mobile phones. I (wish/hope) they (not/do) that. It’s rude.
- Bobby has a lot of work to do, but he (wish/hope) that he (can/finish) by 5 p.m..
- Yesterday, John asked his co-worker if she was pregnant. She got angry at him because she wasn’t. John (wish/hope) that he (not/say) that.
- I have an important speech to give tomorrow. I (hope/wish) that I (not/forget) everything I plan to say.
There are other ways in which we use these verbs, but those are the main ways the verbs hope and wish are used.
If you have any questions or you find a mistake, please write a comment below.
All the best.
– Matthew Barton (copyright) / Creator of Englishcurrent.com
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