If you are expressing wishes and regrets in English then it’s important to get the grammar right. You can use wish for past regrets, present regrets, complaining, dreams and unreal situations.

Past regrets

The word regret means that we now feel sorry for something which happened (or didn’t happen) in the past:

  • I regret not studying harder at university – I am now sorry that I didn’t study enough
  • I regret not telling my friend the secret – I am now sorry that I didn’t tell my friend

In English we can also use ‘wish’ to express past regrets using the following structure:

wish + pronoun + past perfect

Here are some examples:

  • They wish they hadn’t spent so much money on holiday, they are broke now!
  • I wish I had visited the exhibition when I was in Bologna
  • We wish we had studied harder when we were in English class at school

Here are some more ways of expressing wishes and regrets:

Present regrets

Up to now we have looked at using regret for situations or events which took place in the past and now we feel sorry about. In present situations we can also use wish to talk about our regrets, that is we wish the situation were different to what it is at the moment.

  • I wish I were better at tennis – This is more formal, in spoken English we often say ‘I wish I was better’. I am not very good, but I want to be

Note: Although we are talking about the present, we use the past tense not the present tense.

Here are some more examples:

  • I wish I knew the way to the station – I want to go to the station but I don’t know the way
  • They wish they were older so they could go to the party – they are younger than they want to be
  • She wishes she knew the answer – she wants to know the answer but doesn’t have the answer


When someone does something which makes us feel annoyed or perhaps angry we can use wish:

  • I wish you wouldn’t leave your shoes there!

You can complain by using wish + would

  • I wish you would wash the dishes more often
  • I wish you would contribute to the bills
  • I wish you would give me more support

Dreams and unreal situations

You can use the form wish + could to talk about something that you want to do but can’t.

For an impossible dream:

  • I wish I could run like the wind!

For possible dreams:

  • I wish I could speak Spanish

We did a great podcast episode on this which you can listen to on our podcast page or you can listen below. You can find these episodes published on our YouTube channel too.