We use I wish … and If only … when we regret something or when we would like something to be different than the way it is.
- I wish / if only + past simple
We would like a present situation to be different
I wish I had a bigger car (because my car is too small).
If only it was the summer holidays (but it isn’t – I’m still at school).
- I wish / if only + would
We want something to happen
I wish my car would start (I can’t make it start and I want it to start).
If only the lesson would end (I want it to end).
We want someone to start doing something they do not do
If only you’d listen to me!
We want someone to stop doing something which annoys us
I wish you wouldn’t borrow my clothes!
If only my mum wouldn’t phone me every five minutes!
- I wish / if only + past perfect
Talk about things which we are unhappy about which happened in the past
He wishes he had studied harder when he was at school. (He didn’t study hard enough – perhaps if he had studied harder he would have gone to university.)
If only they hadn’t scored that goal! (They scored a goal and as a result they probably won’t win
Note: If only means I wish. When talking about other people we use he wishes, they wish, etc. We use if onlywhen we feel something very strongly. Otherwise we use I wish.