Hope Vs. Wish

After this lesson, I hope my students understand when to use these verbs. Actually, I wish they already understood!

This week our head writer, Tara Benwell, is working on a Discussion Starters lesson plan about Hosting the World, a lesson on hosting huge events like the World Cup or the Olympics. This lesson includes a review of the verbs hope and wish, so I decided to make a comparison chart that you can use in class. I also included a printable exercise sheet at the end. We hope this post helps your students keep the different grammar patterns for these two verbs straight!

Hope Vs. Wish

Hope and wish have very similar meanings. We use them to express our desire for something different from how it is now. In a nutshell, hope mainly expresses a desire that is possible or likely 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.).

Download Hope Vs. Wish PDF


Sentences with hope and wish are usually followed by a noun clause starting with that. In English, we often 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!


Download Hope Vs. Wish Exercises PDF

Answers to the practice worksheet:

A. 1. hope   2. hope   3. wishes   4. wish   5. wishes
B. 1. were finished   2. is   3. had helped   4. pay   5. would stop

Reference guide used in this post: Azar, Betty Schrampfer. Understanding and Using English Grammar, second edition. Prentice Hall Regents, NJ.

Bonus question: Can your students tell you what tenses and patterns were used in the introductory sentences to this post? Answers: Sentence 1 – Verb: hope, Tense: future, Pattern: hope / present (After this lesson, I hope my students understand when to use these verbs). Sentence 2 – Verb: wish, Tense: present, Pattern: wish / past (Actually, I wish they already understood).


Leave a Comment ↓

  1. s_yh@hotmail.com'

    YH says:

    Jan 24, 2018 at 5:51 am

    Thanks for this nice little article. Quite useful actually.

    I am still confused with another seeming very common scenario. I hope you do not mind to explain please. Thank you.

    I often see people sending emails or greeting cards with the ending: “Best wishes” or “Very best wishes for [the future of something else]”

    If “wish” expresses a desire that is impossible or unlikely to happen, does the above greeting mean the sender doesn’t really believe the recipient would have a great future? Should it be better to use “Best hopes…” then?

    Or is it true that, as nouns, the words “wish” and “hope” don’t have the above differences as they have when they are as verb?

    Incidentally, if I say “I wish you would not mind to explain please.” above. Is this way more polite or it is not appropriate?)

    Thanks and sorry for my poor English.


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 25, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      Hi YH,

      Thanks for commenting. Good question! It’s important to keep in mind that both “hope” and “wish” are usually used to describe good, positive things that you WANT to happen. Just because the verb “wish” is used for situations where the outcome is more unlikely doesn’t mean that the wish is negative. Also, as nouns, “hope” and “wish” are very similar.

      “Best wishes” and “I wish you all the best” are common expressions and are used correctly. “Best hopes” is not common, but other expressions, such as “May all your hopes and dreams come true,” are common. By the way, we use “wish” for special occasions too, such as “We wish you a merry Christmas,” even though having a merry Christmas or a happy birthday IS likely. The distinction in the verb form doesn’t apply to the noun form.

      In your last question, “hope” is better than “wish” because you are using a verb, and it is likely that I will respond (based on the fact that you can see I have responded to other questions). So you should say “I hope you won’t mind explaining this to me, please.”

      If you could see that I never responded to blog posts, you might say to your friend “This blogger never replies to comments. I wish she would reply.” (Use this if you think it’s unlikely someone will respond.)

      Hope that helps!


  2. tracyduddridge@msn.com'

    Tracy says:

    Dec 06, 2017 at 5:38 am



  3. faraidonpaiwand@yahoo.com'

    faraidon says:

    Aug 22, 2017 at 5:40 am

    hello Tanya I made up my mind to know the exact structure and usage of the hope with the past tense and l am looking forward to hear you as soon as possible


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 22, 2017 at 5:15 pm

      Hi Faraidon,

      There are a few different ways you can use “hope” in the past.
      1. Use “hope + past” for something you hope happened in the past that still relates to a present hope.
      – I hope she remembered to bring the report!

      2. Use “was/were hoping + would + V” or “was/were hoping + for + noun” for a desire that you hoped would happen, but didn’t. The “ing” form emphasizes that you were hoping for a while.
      – I was hoping he would call me last night. Oh well.
      – They were hoping for a different outcome.

      3. Use “had hoped + would + base verb” to show two different past times. “Had hoped” was the first action, and “would + base verb” was the second. The meaning is that first you hoped something, but then it didn’t happen.
      – I had hoped he would call me last night. (By 10:00 pm, I had given up hope.)

      4. Note that “had hoped” can be shortened to “hoped” with the same meaning.
      – I hoped he would call me last night.

      Hope that helps! :)


  4. nine8909@hotmail.com'

    Daniel says:

    Jul 15, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Thanks for share this info.


  5. indahsrirezeki244@yahoo.com'

    Indah says:

    Jul 12, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    Very useful… Thanks a lot


  6. anika.kanchan@gmail.com'

    kanchan says:

    Apr 24, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    i want to know about wish sentences into change a hypothetical clause.


  7. raja@pc2vm.com'

    Zuriel says:

    Apr 12, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Tanya, Thank you for a great blog/article…I write a daily journal while I commute to work in a train….and today as I wrote in the journal I wrote I wish but then I stopped and pondered over whether wish was appropriate or hope or what the difference would be….and here I am reading your article …..thank you for clarifying.

    All the best


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 12, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      I’m glad it was helpful, Zuriel! Keep up the journal writing. It’s such a good way to improve your English. :)


  8. 117010059.vina@gmail.com'

    Febri says:

    Mar 06, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Would you please explain, in part “hope/past” , is this sentence correct? ” l hope he could go to the meeting yesterday” because the form past of “can” is “could”
    Thank you for the answer


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 06, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Hi Febri,

      That sentence is indeed correct! You can use a past modal or modal expression in place of a past verb.

      √ I hope he could go to the meeting yesterday.
      √ I hope he was able to go to the meeting yesterday.


  9. nasimlayegh@yahoo.com'

    Nasim says:

    Oct 07, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Hi. Would you please explain part B.3. Why the right answer is ‘had helped’ and not ‘helped’?


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Oct 07, 2016 at 3:34 pm

      Hi Nasim,

      If this is a past situation, then we can use wish + had + p.p. (see example for Past #1, “I wish I had passed the test,” in the first chart). So we would say, for example, “My coworker wishes I had helped him with the presentation yesterday because it didn’t go well.”

      Wish + past is normally reserved for a present situation (see Present #1 in the first chart). Some speakers might drop “had” and just say “helped” in an informal past case, so you might have heard that before. But since it’s not the best grammar, I would try to avoid it and not teach it to students.

      It would be fine to say “My coworker wishes I would help him with the presentation” (see Future #1) if you are talking about the potential of helping him soon.

      Hope that helps!


  10. peasteacher@yahoo.com.br'

    Paulo Eduardo says:

    Aug 31, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Why is the b1 exercise right answer “were finished” in the class is in the singular form?
    I tought it was “was finished” the right answer and I tried to understand why I was wrong buut I didn’t get the right point, the right idea or better saying, the explanation, so could you help me?


    • peasteacher@yahoo.com.br'

      Paulo Eduardo says:

      Aug 31, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      Maybe it’s because we are supposed to use “were” for all persons in wish statemnents.

      I got it!


      • Tanya Trusler says:

        Aug 31, 2016 at 4:32 pm

        Yep, you got it! It’s common to be confused about this because we often hear English speakers saying “was” instead of “were.” “Were” is the correct subjunctive form (with “wish” and “if” statements), but many people ignore this rule nowadays and use “was” for singular cases. In today’s grammar, I think most people would consider both correct.


  11. dadada@hotmail.com'

    Dania says:

    Jun 08, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Cool explanation, love it 👍


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 08, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      Thanks, Dania!


      • m.mehdimahtabi@gmail.com'

        Mehdi says:

        Aug 24, 2016 at 7:08 am

        I’m engligh student.
        Thanks a lot for you.


        • Tanya Trusler says:

          Aug 24, 2016 at 10:50 am

          You’re welcome, Medhi. Good luck with your English studies!


  12. cindybeatch@gmail.com'

    Cindy Beatch says:

    May 20, 2016 at 12:08 am

    Excellent! It is just missing the infinitive form for “Hope” in the future. ie. She hopes to pass the test.


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Great point! “Hope” is commonly used with the infinitive verb. Thanks for sharing!


      • Tanya Trusler says:

        Aug 31, 2016 at 4:33 pm

        I’ve added an example with “hope + infinitive” to the “Notes” paragraph. Thanks again, Cindy!


  13. parongnhel@gmail.com'

    rith says:

    Dec 13, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    Very good explanation and very good example. Especially, was and were.


  14. crisizzler1996@gmail.com'

    Cristel Marcos says:

    Dec 03, 2015 at 5:21 am

    Thank you so much for the help!


  15. eli.bete81@yahoo.com.br'

    Elisabete says:

    Sep 08, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Very good explanation and exercise!!! Thx


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 08, 2015 at 6:13 pm

      You’re welcome, Elisabete. Thanks for your comment!


  16. maripiva@yahoo.com'

    marilena57 says:

    Jun 27, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    great these PDFs explanation and exercise! Very useful! Thanks


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 30, 2014 at 4:33 pm

      Glad to hear it! Thanks for taking the time to comment. :)


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