Ever thought about how you would have changed something in the past, or what you hope to do in the future?
Everyone feels something they regret about the past, whether it’s big or small. And everyone wishes they could do something differently if they got the chance!
In English, expressing your regrets and hopes is usually done with a couple of useful phrases and words: “wish” and “if only”. They can be used for past, present and future. Here’s how you can use them.
Talking about past regrets
Both “wish” and “if only” are used to describe an alternative version of events that would have happened in place of what you regretted instead. To use them, you use the past perfect tense, after “wish” or “if only”.
E.g. “If only we had not missed the last flight home, we could have seen her one last time.”
E.g. “I wish I had told him how I really felt, before he left.”
Talking about the present
When expressing a wish or regret that is related to current or future events, this is usually about something you might still have the opportunity of changing. Unlike a past regret, it hasn’t usually happened yet, so you can afford a bit more optimism!
You can still use the same form of “wish” or “if only” to express your regrets. But instead of using the past tense, you can use the past simple tense. This might seem a little confusing, so let’s take a look at an example!
E.g. “If only I knew what was in the exam, then I could revise properly for it.”
Even though this is in the past simple tense, this sentence actually means: “I don’t yet know what is in the exam – but if I do, I will be able to revise for it.”
Talking about the future
Expressing a ‘regret’ about the future is not usually a regret, but in fact, often a complaint. In English, we can use “wish” or “if only” to express how you dislike or want to change something for the future, in a similar way to the above examples.
To do this, simply follow “wish” or “if only” with “would” and the verb describing what you’d like to change.
E.g. “I wish you wouldn’t speak with your mouth full!”
You can also use the same structure to describe your impatience or dissatisfaction with something – handy if you need to make a complaint about something!
E.g. “If only the trains would run on time, then we would not have any difficulty in getting to work.”
E.g. “I wish it would stop raining, as it’s always so cold.”
Learning how to express regrets, wishes and complaints is quite a useful thing to know – whether you simply want to say how you feel about the past, or if you want to make a change for the future!
Make sure you get lots of practice by using these phrases in the different tenses in your daily activities.