English Grammar

“If only” usage in English grammar with illustrations

If only

Conditional sentences in English usually include the word “Iif” which means “if” in Spanish. In this lesson we will talk about the phrase “If only” that is used to express a strong desire about something . Next, you will learn what the meaning is and how it is used in daily life. “If only” usage in English grammar

What does “If only?

The translation in Spanish corresponds to “hopefully,” what else would I like “,” if only “or” if only “ . It is used to express an intense wish that things could be otherwise . We can use “If only” to talk about unreal conditions in the past, present and future tense.

Although its translation is the same as “I wish”, the feeling it conveys is stronger . Both “if only” and “I wish” are used in English for expressions of desire, regret or when we regret something that happened in the past or that may happen in the future.

Difference between “If only” and “I wish”

As we already mentioned, “If only” and “I wish” mean the same and translate the same. The difference is that the first is more emphatic than the second . Furthermore, “If only” can be used as a separate phrase, without adding anything else. While “I wish” requires a complement in the sentence.

How to use “If only”?

Present wishes

When we want to express a present situation that we would like to be different , we use the following structure:

If only + subject + verb in past tense


  • If only I were smaller. 
  • If only you didn’t work too late. 
  • If only I knew what to drink. 
  • If only he could afford that room hotel. 

It is possible to replace “If only” with “I wish”, leaving the expressions like this:

  • I wish I were smaller. 
  • I wish you didn’t work too late. 
  • I wish I knew what to drink. 
  • I wish I could afford a holiday. 

Past wishes

It is used to express something from the past and that we would like to change or that we regret that it has happened . In this sense, we can say that there are two variants:

  1. When something happened and now it doesn’t seem like the best thing to us . So we use the auxiliary “had” and the past participle verb.
  2. By talking about things that did not happen and we wish they had . In this case we use the auxiliary “hadn’t” in its negative form and the past participle verb.

Leaving the general structure of the sentence in this way:

If only + subject + had / hadn’t + verb in past perfect


  • If only I had studied harder when I was at home. (If only he had studied hard when he was at home.)
  • If only I hadn’t eaten too much cookies. 
  • If only I had known before. 
  • If only I hadn’t lost my passport. 
  • If only I had done that project. 

Future wishes

It is used to talk about things that we would like to change in the immediate future or that are impossible to modify in the future due to current conditions. We can use this structure to express annoyance because someone or something does or does not do a certain action.

In the past, those who express themselves are sad or disappointed. While in the future the phrase conveys irritation . Also, this formula is only used when there are two different subjects , that is, we want someone or something to change, but it is not about ourselves. That is why the sentence: ” I wish I would” is not allowed . “If only” usage in English grammar

This estructure is the next one:

If only + subject + would + verb in the infinitive without the “to”


  • If only he would stop fighting every day. 
  • If only she would cry a little. 
  • If only he wouldn’t speak so loud. 
  • If only my students would participate more in class. 
  • If only my father wouldn’t drive so slowly. 

Subjunctive mode

In American English, “If only” is used with the subjunctive to express a desire related to the present . However, this only happens when it comes to the verb “to be” and only “were” is used (not “was”).

Simple past:

  • If only they were more responsible, the press would understand them better.

Past continuous:

  • If only I were going on a trip to Madrid. (If only I went on trips to Madrid.)

Other examples of sentences with “If only”

  • If only I had read that book that my tutor was recommending me. 
  • If only I had more time to rest. 
  • If only we hadn’t had that drink. 
  • If only I had more clothes I wouldn’t wear the same as always.
  • If only you didn’t drink so much alcohol. 
  • If only it was autumn. 
  • If only she could have explained what happened! 
  • If only there were more honest people in the world like him. “If only” usage in English grammar

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