Learners of English quite often get confused between the words “hope” and “wish”.
Here is a usage-based guide with lots of examples to help you learn how to use them correctly and naturally.
But before we start, a word of caution! Don’t try to find a general golden rule to solve your problem once and for all! Languages are best learnt through “use” rather than analysis. Rule-based explanations are easy and quick, but they have two big problems.
Firstly, languages reflect life and, like life, are complicated things. The golden rules you learn so happily will almost certainly be followed by more rules and yet more rules and exceptions to the rules and exceptions to the exceptions. It’s an almost never-ending cycle.
Secondly, and this is perhaps the bigger of the two problems, the human brain is not very good at stopping before each sentence, retrieving the two or three rules it needs from memory, applying them to the sentence, stopping again before the next sentence, and doing the same over and over again. It’s much more practical for our brains to develop patterns and form habits. In other words, give your brains time, learn and use typical sentences and patterns, and keep on using those patterns and typical sentences, and sooner or later your brain will pick up on them and start using them naturally.
Yes, you could go for the quick fix and try to find an explanation or a grammar rule that miraculously analyses the situation and classifies the options. The “explanation” will give you a feeling of control, a feeling of confidence that you are not lost, a sense of achievement, the feeling that you are succeeding in what you are doing. But if you do that, you’ll be sacrificing the long-term development of your language skills and your ability to use the language fluently and naturally in the future.
Now let’s move on to how “hope” and “wish” are used.
Here is what I’m going to do: I’ll be giving you a number of hypothetical situations, and the typical sentences we may use in those situations, to help you see and feel how the words “hope” and “wish” function in each situation and what feeling they convey.
And that, my friends, brings us to the end of this situation-and-usage-based guide to the use of “hope” and “wish”… or does it? You see… I have a fear in my heart right now… What fear you may ask? I’ll tell you…
I have a fear that, some of you, while reading all the above examples, have been thinking or wondering:
“So, we use wish when… but use hope when…”
“So, you can say that we must use the simple past tense after…”
“So, when it is an unreal situation, we use… and when it is… we use…”
“So… must we use the subjunctive here?”
If that is what you have been thinking, then you have been doing it the wrong way. Please read again my advice at the beginning of this post about how to learn a language.
Well, it’s time to bring this post to an end… but how shall I wrap it up? On a pessimistic note or on a hopeful note?
Shall I say, “I wish you would stop trying to take rule-based shortcuts?”
Or shall I say, “I hope you have now realised that rule-based shortcuts are counter-productive. They only flatter to deceive.”
I think I’ll go for the optimistic one and wish you all success in mastering English! :-)