Top Tips for IELTS

Using I wish in IELTS speaking

Here’s a useful piece of grammar if you’re looking for ways to improve your IELTS speaking – especially in part 1. Learning to talk about wishes can help in two ways:

you use more advanced grammar – a good thing

you can learn to say more when you get a question you don’t like

I wish in IELTS

The grammar of wish in brief

If you’ve learnt conditionals (if clauses), then the grammar of wishes shouldn’t be too hard to master. It works in much the same way as conditionals. That’s because – just as in conditionals – you’re talking about an unreal situation. The major difference is that you use “I wish” and not “if”.  The basics are:

Present wishes

This bit is just like the second conditional – we use the past tense to talk about present wishes.

I wish I lived somewhere else [now]

Note that properly we use were and not was with wish. This is because what looks like a past tense is in fact a subjective mood. You’ll find a quick explanation of this from Grammar Girl – a great site to visit if you have a grammar problem.

I wish I were more active

Past wishes

This one looks like a third conditional as we use the past perfect (had tense) to talk about past wishes

I wish I had learnt to speak Portuguese when I was younger

Future wishes 

These you are probably going to use least in IELTS speaking. Here the key words are would and could

I wish I could live somewhere else

You’ll find links to some practice exercises at the bottom of the page.

When you can talk about wishes in IELTS

You can actually talk about what you wish in answer to a surprising number of questions. Generally, I think it can help in two types of situation.

1.You get a question where you have nothing interesting to say

IELTS is a language test and you don’t have to interesting! But there can be problems if you just give dull/boring answers. The biggest of these is that you simply use simple and repetitive language and don’t get to show off all your skills and often you find it hard to say enough.

This first answer isn’t too bad, but really it’s little more than a list of adjectives.

Do you like where you live?

Yes I do like where I live. It’s a quiet and peaceful place and the people there are extremely friendly.

This second answer is better though. It’s got some more interesting grammar for one thing. It’s also just says much more. Why? If you talk about wishes, you get twice as much to say. You can talk about the real situation and the “unreal” wish.

Do you like where you live?

Yes I do like it there. It’s a friendly place and quite peaceful but there are times when I wish I lived somewhere else – it can be a little too quiet for my taste. There isn’t so much to do in the evenings and I do like to go out clubbing at the weekends and it’d be much easier if there clubs in my neighbourhood.

Talking about wishes can allow you to talk about twice as much – you talk about reality and what you would like to be real

See some more examples

You can use “I wish” with lots of question types including when you are asked about habits and times in the past as well.

How often do you take physical exercise?

I don’t actually do that much exercise as I can’t always find the time. I wish I were more active. I’m sure that if I still had time for basketball with my friends I’d feel much healthier, but we’re all just too busy nowadays with work and family commitments.

When was the last time you went dancing?

I can’t actually remember the last time. I don’t go dancing that often as I’ve got no sense of rhythm and I look a little silly. I wish I were more musical so then I could go out dancing more – it’s a great way to spend time with your friends.

2. Your real answer is just no!

A second time you might want to use wish is when you just get a bad question – one to which the honest answer is just “no”. That’s a bad answer in IELTS because your aim is to use more English. This first answer is very limited.

Do you like riding a bicycle?

In fact I can’t ride a bicycle – I never learnt to do it when I was a child.

But this second answer with I wish works much better.

Do you like riding a bicycle?

Actually I never learnt to ride a bike when I was a kid. I wish I had done as then I would now be able to cycle into work and avoid the traffic jams. I guess it would be a way of getting more exercise – as it is I only really get exercise by walking up and down stairs.

Explaining your wish and using if

If you get to use “I wish”, then you can also sometimes carry on by using an if when you explain the wish. This is because conditionals are in some ways just another way of talking about wishes.

the wish

I wish I hadn’t chosen to study economics but had done law instead.

the explanation

I’m sure that if I had done law then it would be much easier to find a job when I leave university.

Learning the skill

If you want to learn this skill, it really helps to practise talking about wishes. My suggestion is that you start off by giving a short/direct answer to the question and then add in a wish afterwards. i.e. I quite like where I live but I wish 

Start with the truth – that’s easy. Then add in later what you wish were true – that’s slightly trickier

Try some practice questions – ask yourself what isn’t perfect

Look at these rather dull questions and try and find ways to make your answers interesting by adding in a wish. You don’t have to lie, you just need to ask yourself if this is perfect. Very few things in life are perfect!

Do you like where you live?

What do you like most about your course?

Do you enjoy your work?

Where do you go walking?

How often do you use a computer?

When do you go shopping?

Remember the grammar

All this only works if you get the grammar right. It can help to write down a few examples first just to make sure you understand the grammar.

Think about using but too

One way to make a wish is to use but. This often works with like/dislike questions. You start by saying

I like it

when you give your direct answer to the question andyou then add

but I wish 

when you extend your answer by making a contrast with your “unreal” wish. You’re just contrasting reality with what you’d like to be true and the connection is “but I wish”.

Try to explain the wish

Part of skill of talking about wishes is learning how to explain them. A simple thing to ask yourself is “Why do I wish that?” as you are speaking.

Practice the grammar of wish

My English Pages – exercises with more detail on wishes and regrets

OUP – ignore there instructions – just try to make correct wish statements

ESL Lounge more complex exercises where you need to  make complete sentences

   

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7 Responses to Using I wish in IELTS speaking

  1. Gracie April 19, 2017 at 10:40 am #

    Hi Dominic,
    Can we surely assume that the word “were” is suitable for present wishes ? I am still uncertain about the correct use of this verb “to be” , by the way, I found a link from the BC that contradicts what you said because they only use the past tense form .

    • Dominic Cole April 19, 2017 at 10:47 am #

      Ok. You’ll find alternatives and you shouldn’t stress too much about was/were. It’s highly unlikely that you would be regarded as making an error if you chose to use either was or were.

      My understanding is that the situation is as follows. You’ll find books/websites etc that state you should use the past tense following I wish. This is simple to teach and simple to learn and is becoming the/an accepted usage. However, properly speaking we do not use a past tense, we use a subjunctive (i.e. were) – something that looks very much like a past in most of its forms. This is an example of language change in action.

      • Gracie April 20, 2017 at 2:15 am #

        I understand, thank you for your reply!

  2. Amar Dhaliwal Kasel Ton April 19, 2017 at 7:36 pm #

    That was really helpful… appreciated

  3. Khushbu April 22, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    This is truly wonderful. But where can we use this in the test? Which part of the test?

    • Dominic Cole April 23, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

      It’s most likely to be helpful in extending answers in part 1 – that’s the part where you get to talk most about your personal hopes/experiences.

      There are times though you could get to use it in parts 2 and 3. In part 2 for example you could use it when you are talking about an experience e.g.

      I wish I hadn’t bought that shirt
      I wish I had remembered to invite my girlfriend to come with me

      In part 3 it’s perhaps less likely to be useful as there you mostly talk about things in general and less about your personal experiences.

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