Expressing Wishes with Had

Possibilities
What do you wish you had?. JGI/Jamie Grill / Blend Images / Getty Images

The phrase I wish I had is used to express that I would like to have something that I do not have. 

I wish I had a $1 million!

I don't have $1 million +  but I would like to have it = I wish I had $1 million. 

You can also use this form to express something you would have liked to be true in the past. In this case, we use I wish I had had:

I wish I had had more friends when I was in high school.

In this case, I didn't have many friends, but I think it would have been nice.

Similarities to the Conditional

Think of the phrase "I wish I had..." as similar to the second or unreal conditional. This form is used to conditions in order to imagine a different present or future moment. For example:

Life would be easier if I had $1 million dollars = I wish I had $1 million dollars. 

Remember that the result the "if" clause is conjugated with the simple past. This is true as well for "I wish" + past simple. In each case, the past tense is known as the subjunctive tense. A tense used to imagine a different situation. 

The same is true for the past unreal (third) conditional form. In this form, the past perfect is used with "if" to express an imagined (but different) condition in the past:

If I had had more time, I would have visited my friends in New York.= I wish I had had more time to visit friends in New York. 

In both cases, you didn't have enough time (the fact), but you wish you had had more time.

I Wish I Had -- Present Wishes

Here are some common phrases with I wish I had:

I wish I had more money.
I wish I had more free time.
I wish I had more friends.
I wish I had a better car.

In the phrase, I wish I had, "had" is the past simple form of the verb "to have." Other verbs can be used with "I wish."

I wish I spoke Russian.
I wish I played the guitar.
I wish I drove a Mercedes.
I wish I lived in Seattle.

The use of the I wish I had is very similar to the second conditional because it expresses a situation which is contrary to fact. Look at these sentences comparing the two form with the same meaning.

I wish I had more free time. I'd like to go hiking more often. = If I had more free time, I would go hiking more often. 

I don't have enough free time to do the hiking. In both cases, I'm expressing a wish about the present moment in time.

Grammar -- The Present

S + Wish + Past Tense

"Wish" + the past simple is used to expresses wishes about the present. Remember to use the present simple form of wish with "es" for he, she and it and "do / does", as well as the negative "don't / doesn't" followed by a statement in the past tense. Remember that even though the main verb is in the past, the statement refers to the present moment in time.

She wishes she had more free time.
Do you wish you had more friends?
Does he wish he lived in Chicago?
They don't wish they were bankers.
Jennifer doesn't wish she went to school.

I Wish I Had Had -- Past Wishes

It's also common to speak about past wishes with the phrase I wish I had (had, done, gone, played, etc.) Here are some examples:

I wish I had had more free time on my business trip last week.
I wish I had stayed in Florence longer.
I wish I had bought that house.
I wish I had invited Tim to the party.

Grammar -- The Past

S + Wish + Past Perfect Tense

As with the present form, remember to use the present simple with "es" for he, she and it and "do/does", as well as the negative "don't / doesn't" followed by a statement in the past tense. Next, add "don't / doesn't" followed by a statement in the past perfect tense. "Wishes" expresses a present wish about something in the past ("had done"). 

Jane wishes she had gone to that restaurant in New York.
Does she wish she had spent more time with her son?
They don't wish they had gone to the play.
Jennifer doesn't wish she had bough a present for Tommy.

I Wish -- Quiz

Fill in the blanks with the correct form of the verb.

Use the context of the situation to decide whether a present or past wish is intended.

  1. She didn't have much fun in San Francisco. She wishes she _________ (not go) there for vacation.
  2. I'm going to the mountains next week. I wish I ____________ (have) more time, but I'll be staying for only a week.
  3. She lost the job because she didn't make enough sales. She wishes she __________ (spend) more time on the phone trying to find new clients.
  4. Jason enjoys reading books, but he doesn't have much opportunity to read these days. He wishes he __________ (can) read more.
  5. Jane wanted to visit her friends in Alaska, but she wasn't able to go. She wishes she _________ (have) enough money to visit them.
  6. I love learning new languages. I wish I __________ (be) smarter, so I could learn faster. 

Answers:

  1. hadn't gone
  2. had
  3. had spent
  4. could
  5. had had
  6. were