Wish and hope have very similar meanings. We will use them to express our desire for something different from how it is now. In other words, hope mainly expresses a desire that is possible to happen. Wish usually expresses a desire that is impossible or unlikely to happen. To express a future desire, hope usually takes a simple present verb, and wish mostly follows the pattern of the second conditional (i.e., using would and other past patterns). In the past, wish follows the pattern of the third conditional (i.e., using had + p.p.).


Sentences with hope and wish are usually followed by a noun clause starting with that. In English, we frequently drop that from noun clauses, especially in informal speaking and writing. Point this out to students by giving them these two examples, which have the same meaning: I hope that I pass the test. / I hope I pass the test. You may also want to point out that it is possible, though less common, to use hope and wish with other types of phrases (e.g., I hope to pass the test. / I wish for rain tomorrow.)

Was or Were?

Because wish is a subjunctive verb, it follows the same pattern as the second conditional where the Be verb is concerned (i.e., traditional grammar dictates we should always use were and never was, even when the subject is I, he, she, a singular count noun, or a non-count noun, as demonstrated in the chart above). But should we teach this to our students when so many native speakers ignore this rule? Well, I like to advise my students to follow this rule (since it is the “correct grammar”), but I do point out that it is becoming less popular these days to do so. Whether this is because it’s becoming a fossilized mistake or because English is legitimately evolving away from the formality of the subjunctive is an argument for another day!

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