Today we will explore the nuances between wishes, hopes, and regrets. Understanding these concepts and their appropriate usage in English can significantly improve your communication skills. We will analyze various examples and transcripts to help clarify the differences between these expressions.

Wishes, Hopes, and Regrets: The Basics

Wishes are like magic – they are unreal, imaginary, and represent situations we would like to change but can’t. We use wishes for past or present situations that we cannot alter. Wishes can also be used for future situations that are highly unlikely to happen.

Hopes, on the other hand, are more optimistic than wishes and are used for probable or likely future situations.

Regrets are expressions of disappointment or sadness about something that has happened or failed to happen. When you wish something different had occurred, you are expressing a regret.


  • I wish I could come to the cinema. (I can’t come – regret)
  • I hope I can come to the cinema. (I might be able to come – optimism)

Annoying Habits and Behaviors: Using “Would”

When discussing someone else’s annoying habits or behaviours, it’s common to use “would” after “wish.” This combination allows you to express your desire for that person to change their behaviour. For example, if your roommate often plays loud music at night, you might say, “I wish you wouldn’t play loud music so late.” This implies that you want them to stop their annoying habit.

However, when referring to our own behaviour, using “would” is typically incorrect. This is because we have control over our actions, and if we want to change them, we can do so without expressing a wish. Instead of using “would,” it’s more appropriate to use phrases such as “I need to” or “I should.” For example, instead of saying, “I wish I wouldn’t procrastinate,” you could say, “I need to stop procrastinating” or “I should work on my time management skills.”

State Verbs and “Would”

When using “wish” with “would,” it’s important to remember that “would” should only be paired with action verbs, not state verbs. This is because “would” implies a change or action, while state verbs describe a situation, condition, or state of being that doesn’t involve an action.

For example, the verb “have” is a state verb, as it refers to possession or a state of being. Thus, using “would” with “have” would be incorrect. Let’s look at the following examples to understand the distinction:

Correct: I wish you would clean your room. (Action verb: clean) Incorrect: I wish you would have a clean room. (State verb: have)

In the correct example, “clean” is an action verb, indicating that you want the person to take action and clean their room. In the incorrect example, “have” is a state verb, which doesn’t involve action and is therefore incompatible with “would.”

In summary, when expressing annoyance with someone else’s habits or behaviours, it’s appropriate to use “would” after “wish.” However, when referring to our own behaviours, it’s more suitable to use phrases like “I need to” or “I should.” Additionally, remember that “would” should only be used with action verbs and not state verbs. Keeping these distinctions in mind will help you express your thoughts more accurately and fluently in English.

Wishes and Regrets about the Past

When discussing regrets or past wishes, we use the past perfect tense. For example, “He wishes he had been more helpful” expresses a regret about a specific past event, whereas “He wishes he were more helpful” refers to a general character trait.

Differentiating between “wish” and “hope”

While “wish” is used for hypothetical or unreal situations, “hope” is used for real possibilities. For example, “I wish I had a bigger house” expresses a desire for something currently unattainable, while “I hope I get a bigger house” implies that there is a real possibility of obtaining a bigger house.

Using “wish” with State Verbs

When expressing a wish, we often use “wish” followed by a past simple verb for situations in the present. For example, “I wish we didn’t live in the city” expresses a current preference. However, when using a state verb, we need to change the form to “would.” For instance, “I wish we would move to the countryside” conveys a desire for a change in the future.

In Formal Contexts

It’s important to note that “wish” can be used in a formal context with the full infinitive, as in “I wish to speak to the manager.” This is a very formal way of expressing a desire or demand.

Emphasizing with “If Only”

Finally, the expression “if only” can be used as a stronger version of “I wish” to emphasize the speaker’s strong desire for something to be different.

For example, if someone says “If only I had studied harder for the exam, I would have gotten a better grade,” they are expressing regret about not studying enough and wishing they had done things differently. Similarly, if someone says “If only I could travel the world, I would be so happy,” they are expressing a strong desire to travel and see the world.

The phrase “if only” can also be used to express frustration or disappointment about something that is currently happening or not happening. For instance, if someone says “If only people would listen to each other more, the world would be a better place,” they are expressing frustration about the lack of communication and understanding in the world.

Overall, “if only” is a powerful phrase that can help to convey strong emotions and desires. It is often used to express a sense of longing or regret, and can be a useful tool for communicating complex emotions in English.

In conclusion, understanding the differences between wishes, hopes, and regrets will help you navigate social situations and express yourself more accurately in English. Keep practicing, and soon these distinctions will become second nature!

Discussion Topics

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  1. Have you ever wished for something that was impossible to achieve? Can you share an example of a wish you had that you knew couldn’t come true? How did you feel about it?
  2. Do you think it’s important to express regrets or just move on from them? How do you usually deal with regrets in your life? Are there any regrets you have that you wish you could change?
  3. What are some common pronunciation mistakes you’ve encountered while learning English? How have you tried to improve your pronunciation? Do you have any tips for others who are struggling with English pronunciation?

Activities & Questions

Now it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. Write your response to the AI EFL Expert Gale below.

Activity: Write a letter to your future self Think about what you want to achieve in the next five years. Write a letter to your future self, expressing your hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Include details about your goals, your plans, and your vision for the future. Use the language of wishes and regrets to express your thoughts and feelings.

Quiz question: What is the difference between “wish” and “regret”?

For Teachers: Lesson Plan Idea

Looking for a lesson plan tailored to your students’ level or assistance in creating teaching materials? Meet Gale, your AI EFL Expert! With Gale’s help, you can create engaging and effective lessons that meet your students’ needs.

Level: Intermediate


  • To help students learn and use vocabulary related to wishes and regrets
  • To practice using different verb tenses to talk about wishes and regrets
  • To develop speaking and writing skills through discussions and written exercises


  • Video on wishes and regrets (such as the one above)
  • Handout with vocabulary related to wishes and regrets
  • Worksheet with exercises for practicing verb tenses
  • Discussion questions related to the topic

Warm-up (10 minutes):

  • Start the lesson by asking students if they have any regrets or wishes they would like to share. This can be done in pairs or small groups.
  • Introduce the topic of the lesson by discussing why it’s important to talk about wishes and regrets and how it can help improve communication skills.

Presentation (30 minutes):

  • Show the video on wishes and regrets and have students take notes on the vocabulary and phrases used.
  • Provide a handout with the vocabulary and phrases used in the video and have students practice using them in sentences.
  • Use the worksheet with exercises for practicing verb tenses related to wishes and regrets.

Practice (30 minutes):

  • Divide the class into pairs or small groups and have them discuss the following questions related to wishes and regrets:
    • What is something you wish you had done differently in your life?
    • If you could go back in time, what would you change?
    • What is something you regret not doing?
    • If you could have one wish come true, what would it be?
  • Have each group share their answers with the class.
  • Provide a writing exercise where students write about a wish or regret they have in their own lives.

Wrap-up (10 minutes):

  • Review the vocabulary and verb tenses related to wishes and regrets.
  • Ask students to reflect on what they learned in the lesson and how they can apply it to their own communication skills.

Assessment: Students will be assessed based on their participation in class discussions, their ability to use the vocabulary and verb tenses related to wishes and regrets, and their written exercise.

Gale – Gallery Teachers’ AI EFL Tutor

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