Wish can be a tricky word to use correctly in English. We use it in three different ways, with three different meanings, and it’s very easy for Chinese speakers to make mistakes.
1. wish (祝) + someone + something
Everyone knows the sentence “We wish you a merry Christmas,” so remember that pattern whenever you want to use wish to mean 祝. “We wish you a merry Christmas” means “We hope you have a merry Christmas” — but notice that we don’t use a verb with wish. “We wish you have a merry Christmas” is incorrect. Here are some more examples of this pattern.
- Congratulations on your wedding! I wish you a long and happy life together.
- I gave my friend a call to wish him a happy birthday.
- I’m taking my driving test today. Wish me luck!
2. wish (想要) + infinitive
Sometimes wish is just a rather formal way to say want or would like. It can be followed by an infinitive (to + verb), or by an object + an infinitive. Wish is used this way mostly in formal writing, recorded messages, and so on. It’s not common in conversation.
- Thank you for calling the Grand Hotel. If you wish to make a reservation, press 1.
- We wish to inform you that the sales meeting has been rescheduled.
- My supervisor has informed me that he wishes me to be present during the negotiations.
As with want and would like, the infinitive can be omitted if it is clear from context.
- I would be happy to call a taxi for you if you wish. (= if you wish me to call a taxi)
- There is no dress code. You can wear whatever you wish. (= whatever you wish to wear)
3. wish/hope (希望) + clause
Chinese speakers often make mistakes with this form, because English has two different words (wish and hope) where Chinese only has one (希望). Wish and hope are different in English, and Chinese speakers often use the wrong one.
When you wish something, it means that you want it to be true but know that in fact it is not true. After wish, we use the past tense (for a wish about the present) or the past perfect (for a wish about the past). When the past tense is used with wish, it’s traditional to use were instead of was for all subjects, but people don’t always follow that rule.
- I love playing basketball, but I’m not very tall. I wish I were/was taller.
- I wish I could help you, but I can’t.
- I got a terrible grade on my English test. I wish I had studied harder.
- I’m really tired. I wish I hadn’t stayed up so late last night.
We can also use wish with would to complain about something.
- It’s been raining all afternoon. I wish it would stop!
- I wish my neighbor’s dog wouldn’t bark all night.
(Here, too, wish expresses something that is not true. In fact, my neighbor’s dog always barks all night, and it doesn’t look like the rain is going to stop anytime soon.)
Sometimes we use “I wish” and “You wish” by themselves, with no clause. “I wish” means “That would be great, but it’s not true.” “You wish” means “Maybe you think that’s true, but it’s impossible” (similar to saying “做夢!” in Chinese).
- A: Are you doing anything fun this weekend?
B: I wish! I have to stay home and study for my exams.
- A: I think that girl’s checking me out.
B: You wish! She’s out of your league.
Hope, on the other hand, is used to talk about things that we think may really be true or may really happen. In the clause after hope, we use normal tenses (past tense to talk about the past, present tense to talk about the present, etc.), with one exception: To talk about hopes for the future, we usually use present tense rather than will.
- I hope you all remembered to study, because we’re having a test today!
- Bob didn’t show up to work, and he’s not answering his phone. I hope he’s okay.
- I hope it doesn’t rain this weekend. We’re going camping.
- The Yankees are playing the Red Sox tomorrow. I hope the Yankees win.
However, sometimes we do use will after hope, if the sentence might otherwise sound like it is about the present. This is especially common with the verb be.
- I hope you are happy. (now)
- I hope you will be happy. (in the future)
We don’t use “I hope” by itself, but we can say “I hope so” and “I hope not.”
- A: Do you think the weather will be nice tomorrow?
B: I hope so. I want to go to the beach.
- A: Is Chuck coming to the party?
B: I hope not. I really don’t like him!
In summary, the main difference between wish and hope is this: They both mean that you want something, but wish means that what you want is not true or not going to happen; hope means you think it is possible. Compare the following pairs of examples.
- Thanks for inviting me to your party. I wish I could come. (= I want to come, but I can’t.)
- Thanks for inviting me to your party. I hope I can come. (= I want to come, but I’m not sure if I can.)
- I wish I had passed the test. (Actually, I failed.)
- I hope I pass the test. (Maybe I will pass.)
- I wish you liked your job. (Actually, you don’t like it.)
- I hope you like your job. (I’m not sure if you like it.)
I hope this explanation is clear. If there’s anything you wish you understood better, feel free to leave a question in the comments. I hope I can help!
Eton Royal English School