Hope or wish: the ultimate usage-based guide

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.

First Situation: Holiday in the Mountains

You are going on holiday to a remote mountain area. The question is whether your mobile phone will work there or will be out of range...

Before reaching your destination:
  • I hope my phone works there.
After reaching your destination and realising there's no mobile reception in the area:
  • I wish my phone worked here.
  • I hope at least the landline works.
After realising that there is no landline:
  • I wish I had a way of contacting my family and letting them know that I have safely arrived.
  • I wish the government would do something about it.
  • I hope my next holiday is / will be better than this one!

Second situation: Repeating Mistakes

A student keeps repeating a mistake. The teacher explains it to him/her one more time...

The teacher is trying to encourage/warn the student not to repeat the mistake...
  • I hope this is the last time you make this mistake. I hope you'll pay more attention in the future. I don't wish to hear you make that mistake ever again!
The teacher is frustrated and has given up hope...

(The teacher is shaking his/her head sadly...)

  • I wish you paid more attention. I wish you would stop daydreaming in the class all the time. (But honestly, I have given up on you! I have already corrected you a hundred times and you keep making the same mistake!)

Third Situation: In the Restaurant

You enter a busy restaurant and ask for a table for two...

Waiter to you:
  • I'm sorry. We don’t have any tables available right now. Do you wish to wait?

So you wait and wait and wait, and when finally a table becomes available and you get seated, the service is way too slow, the waiters are not very attentive, and when your steak finally arrives, it is overcooked...

You to the waiter:
  • I wish to speak to the manager.
You to the manager:
  • This is unacceptable! I wish you wouldn't treat your customers like stupid money bags.
The manager to you:
  • I'm really sorry. I assure you it won't be repeated. I hope you'll give our restaurant another chance in the future.

Fourth Situation: Big Exam

The exam is tomorrow and you are not exactly ready:
  • I wish the exam weren't/wasn't tomorrow. If only I had a few more days to better prepare for the exam!
  • I wish I had studied harder for tomorrow's test.
  • Still, I am quite good at physics and I have reviewed most of the book except for the last two chapters. I hope there aren't any questions about those two chapters tomorrow. If so, I have some chance of passing the text.
The day after the exam:
  • Your father: Wasn't your exam yesterday? I hope you did well.
  • You: I'm not so sure. I wish I had studied harder, but I still hope I've passed. We'll see when the results are out next week.

Fifth Situation: Job Interview

Before the interview:
  • Your friend: I hope you pass the interview.
  • You: I hope so. Wish me luck!
After the interview, but you don't know the result yet:
  • You: I wish I had spoken more confidently at the interview. I was a bit intimidated by the interviewer. Still, I didn't do too badly... I hope I got the job. (Or: I hope I have got the job. Or: I hope I will get the job.)
  • Your friend: I have a good feeling about this. Hopefully we'll have some good news tomorrow.

Sixth Situation: Love & Relationships

You are not very popular with girls...
  • I wish I were tall and didn't have freckles. I am so ugly! And I can't even dance. I wish I could at least dance or play the piano or be funny or something to be able to impress the girls.
  • Most of the girls totally ignore me, including Charlot who I think is very cute. I wish she were/was interested in me.
Dreaming about the future, longing for love...
  • I hope one day I'll find the woman/man of my dreams.
  • I wish you were here with me. I miss you so much.
After a divorce
  • I am free of him at last! I hope I'll never see him again!
  • It was a terrible mistake. I fell in love with the wrong person and he nearly ruined my life. I wish I had never met him! I fell for his good looks, but the more I lived with him, the less I liked him.

Seventh Situation: Helping an old lady

You help an old lady carry her shopping...
  • Old lady to you: Thank you so much. You have such a kind heart. I hope you'll have a happy and prosperous life my son/daughter. I wish you the best in your life.

Eighth Situation: Owning a Maserati...

If only I had a Maserati...
  • You: I wish I had enough money to buy a Maserati! Then everybody would be jealous of me, wouldn't they!
  • Your friend: It's a good thing that you haven't got money, because if you did you would waste all of it. But if one day you do a lot of money, I hope you'll have the sense to spend it on something essential and practical, like a house, and not on a Maserati!

Ninth Situation: After the Party

You had a party. You had a whale of a time but you drank to much. The party's over. The guests have left...

A few minutes after the end of the party:
  • We drank too much, didn't we? I hope everybody will be back home safely.
One hour after the party:
  • I hope everybody is back home safely by now.
Two hours after the party:
  • I have had SMS's from all the guests except Mary. I hope she hasn't had an accident or something. I really wish we hadn't drunk so much! It's all your fault Xavier! You kept filling up everybody's glasses!

Tenth Situation: Saturday's Garden Party

You cancelled last Saturday's garden party because of the rain...

On Friday:
  • I wish we hadn't cancelled it because the weather forecast for this weekend is not very good either, but let's be optimistic and hope that we'll have a sunny day tomorrow. You know what I'm wishing for? Yes, a gorgeous sunny day!
On Saturday at around noon:
  • It has been raining non-stop since morning. I hope it stops raining soon or we'll have to cancel the garden party again.
On Saturday in the late afternoon:
  • The rain is not showing any sign of stopping! I wish it would stop raining, but I don't think it will. I'm afraid we have to cancel again.

Eleventh Situation: Keeping a secret

You have shared a secret with Jane, the school gossip...

  • Your best friend: What? You told Jane about it? Jane of all people?! That chatterbox! Don't you know she is incapable of keeping a secret?
  • You: Yes, I know. I wish I hadn't told her. I regret it now.
  • Your best friend: Well, what's done cannot be undone, let's hope she'll keep her mouth shut this once!

twelfth Situation: Going to Hawaii

She is going on a trip... without you...

  • Your girlfriend: I have been chosen to attend a two-day congress in Hawaii at the end of the month.
  • You: That's wonderful. We can have a lot of fun in the evening after your work.
  • Your girlfriend: Erm... you see...
  • You: Why are you hesitating? I hope you are not planning to go without me!
  • Your girlfriend: It's a work trip, paid for by the company. I wish we could go together but there is no way we could do that.

Thirteenth Situation: An Unhappy Mother

It's not easy being the mother of a family of six...
  • There's so much to do that I sometimes wish there were more hours in the day.
  • And I wish my husband would help me with the housework, but he is such a lazybones!
  • And don't get me going about the children! They are so irresponsible and inconsiderate. I wish they would take their lives more seriously!
  • And the neighbours! They are simply awful. I wish they would stop playing loud music every evening and throwing late-night parties every weekend! Honestly, I wish we had never moved into this neighbourhood!
Any hopes and wishes for the future?
  • Well, I still hope that one day my husband realises the selfishness of his ways, but it's all wishful thinking perhaps. He's not likely to change at his age, is he? He is a nice man in many ways, but I sometimes wish I had married someone else.
  • And my children? Well, I don't know what to say, I hope that something will happen, even if you know there's almost no chance that they finally open their eyes and grow into responsible individuals. Again wishful thinking, I suppose. It's partly; some of it my fault. I wish I had been more strict with them when they were younger.

Fourteenth Situation: Making a Cake

You are preparing a cake recipe for the first time...
  • It's the first time I'm making this cake. Perhaps I should check the recipe with Jane first, or perhaps not. Let's go ahead and do it anyway. I hope it turns out OK.
You are halfway through the cooking when you suddenly decide to check with Jane anyway...
  • What? The temperatures in the recipe are in Fahrenheit and not in Centigrade?!! Oops! Wait a sec! OK, I have just lowered the temperature. We'll see how this turns out. I hope I haven't ruined the cake.
You have just taken the cake out of the oven...
  • Oh no, it's half-burnt. I'll have to throw it away. I wish I had checked with Jane before starting.

Fifteenth Situation: New Year, etc

It's Christmas...
  • I wish you all a merry Christmas! I hope you have a merry Christmas.
It's the New Year...
  • Happy New Year to all our members and visitors! I wish you peace, prosperity and happiness in the New Year.
You'll have a driving test this afternoon...
  • Wish me luck (for the test)!

Sixteenth Situation: Happy/Unhappy Break-up

Your girlfriend and you are breaking up. It has been messy...
  • You: I wish we could remain friends, but it's best if we do not see each other any more.
  • Your girlfriend: I totally agree. Who would want to see such a jerk as you anyway!
Your girlfriend and you are breaking up. It has been amicable...

(And you are a real gentleman.)

  • You: Thank you for all the happy times we had together. I wish you the best in your life. I will always remember you with fondness. I hope you meet someone who makes you happy. I hope we can still be friends.
  • Your now ex-girlfriend: I don't deserve you! I don't know why I am leaving you. I mean, how could I ever hope to find such a kind-hearted and gentle man again! I wish you the best, too!

Seventeenth Situation: Improving Your English

You feel you won't be able to improve your English...
  • I wish I could improve my English, but how on earth can I find the time!
  • I wish I could improve my English! Unfortunately I have absolutely no flair for languages.
You feel you can improve your English...
  • I hope I can improve my English. All I need is to work hard and have patience! (And listen to my teachers, obviously... ;-) )
  • I hope one day I'll be able to speak English fluently and correctly.
What I, the writer of this lesson, think...
  • I hope these typical examples will help you speak and write more correctly in the future.
  • I hope I have succeeded in convincing you that the best way to learn a language is through "use" and not through learning rules.

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! :-)

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Farid A
Active Learner
6 years ago

Thank you Pejman for this complete explanation. Actually after I didn’t get the answer about the difference between the usage of “wish” and “hope”, I got frustrated and I wished I’d never asked that question, because it revealed how my English language ability is weak, so I am happy now that my question is not so easy one. More than that, I thank you for your explanation about the language and our brain attitude toward it. This brilliant explanation not only is useful in language learning but also works in our everyday life, because real life is very different from… Read more »

Jean-Marc L
Active Learner
6 years ago

What a lesson ! Thank you. But I stopped to read at the seventh situation. I will go on tomorrow. (You can add a seventeen situation because there are two eleventh situations.)

Reply to  Jean-Marc L
6 years ago

Oops! I have corrected the numbering. Thanks!

Blandine L
Active Learner
6 years ago

I hope one day I will receive the daily notifications!???? I am very active today on the website because I am boring on the road for a weekend. I wish me all the best for this weekend, but it seems to be compromised!

Reply to  Blandine L
6 years ago

We wish you all the best for the weekend too!

Blandine L
Reply to 
6 years ago

I am bored ?

Reply to  Blandine L
6 years ago

Yes, bored. But why bored while on holiday?!

Nathalie V
Active Learner
3 years ago

Thanks for this interesting post!
There is at lot of explanations and examples! I hope I understood correctly! And I wish stop trying to look for translate now!
And when we say : As you wish… and not as you want… Is it because the feeling is more deep?

Nathalie V
Reply to  Nathalie V
3 years ago

And I wish to stop trying to look for translating now! → look for the translation

is it because the feeling is deeper?

Would love to hear your thoughts...x