It’s not surprising that many English learners confuse the words “hope” and “wish”. After all, they can both be used to describe something that hasn’t happened yet, but that you want to happen. However, there are some important differences in the way that they are used.
When you say “I hope” it either means that this is something that really could happen in the future, or that you might find out in the future that it has happened already. In most cases, it also suggests that you have some power over the situation. There are some exceptions, but we’ll come back to these later.
For example, if you say, “I hope your meeting goes well” or “I hope you pass your driving test”, you are saying that you think this could actually happen - and that the person you are talking about has some power to make it happen.
Similarly, when people say they have “not given up hope” it means that they still believe that that something could happen, even though it is starting to seem unlikely. For example, “My dog has been missing for three days but I haven’t given up hope that I’ll find him” means that you know it’s unlikely he’ll come back, but you are still trying to find your dog because it is possible. If you say, “My dog has been missing for three days. I’ve given up hope,” it means that you don’t believe your dog will ever come back.
“Wish” is different, because it means we want to change something that has already happened, or change something about the world as it is right now, but we can’t. We don’t think we have any power to change the situation.
If you say, “I wish I was taller” you are really saying that you would love to be taller, but that’s not possible. It’s never going to happen. If you say “I wish he would be nicer to me”, you mean that you want this person to stop being rude, but there is nothing you can do about it and you don’t think he will change.
That’s why “wishes” are things that come true in children’s stories, usually with the help of magic, whereas when we say “hopes” coming true in real life, we’re usually talking about someone like an athlete that worked so hard and achieved great things.
You can also use “I wish” to talk about things you did in the past that you regret. For example, if you say, “I wish I had/had not…” you are angry with yourself for making a mistake before that you can’t change now.
For example, “I wish I had studied for that exam” or “I wish I had taken my mother’s advice” are both things it is too late to change.
You don’t say “I hope I had studied for that exam” because this means you still think you can change the situation, which is impossible because it happened in the past.
However, if you don’t know yet whether something happened in the past, you do use “hope”.
For example, another common use of “hope” is to say something like, “I heard that Karen had a car accident. I hope she’s okay!”
Even though the car accident happened in the past, you don’t know what happened to Karen. It is still possible that you could find out in the future that she is fine.
Another example is, “I hope I locked the car!” Even though this happened in the past, you can’t remember what happened. This means that you could still find out that everything is fine.
However, if you went out into the car part and your car had been stolen, you would realise that you didn’t lock the car door, and now you can’t change the situation. Once you know the car is stolen, you would say: “I wish I had locked the car!”
So, until you know for sure that you can’t change the situation, or that something bad has definitely happened, use “hope”. Once you’re sure that nothing will change, or you have no power to change it, say “wish”.
We hope you enjoyed this article!
Do you have any more questions about how to use “hope” and “wish” in a sentence? Let us know in the comments section below!