I have an issue with lesson explanation & example of ‘wish’ & ‘hope’. The explanation put forward as I understand it states wish is unobtainable & refers to past tense whereas hope is achievable & refers to future/present tense. It then goes on to give an example sentence for wish ‘I wish I was a Dr’ now here is where my confusion lies. Surely wishing to be a Dr is obtainable if correct steps are taken ie. study, experience etc where the final outcome is obtaining qualifications. Your wish has become a reality…… yet in the explanation text it is stated wish is not obtainable. What am I missing here or is the text incorrect in the use of this example?

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    Not everybody can be a doctor. Even if you have the time and money it requires innate abilities. If you were a bright, middle-class child anticipating a career you would say "I hope to be a doctor"; if you were a middle-aged hospital orderly struggling to get by and with no prospect of taking 10 years off work to obtain the various exams and become a well-paid doctor, you might say "I wish I was a doctor". (It might be clearer if it was "I wish I was king" or pope, although technically it's possible to achieve either, with a big enough army or enough study and prayer.)
    – Stuart F
    Aug 4, 2022 at 14:10

2 Answers 2


What the book says is only partly true, and not stated as well as it could be.

"Hope" is about things that are possible or likely, and "wish" is about things that are impossible or unlikely. Both words can be about past, present or future, without restriction.

If you're familiar with the difference between real and unreal conditionals, the difference between "hope" and "wish" is the same.

If I say, "If I were a doctor, I'd have a summer home in Switzerland" we understand that I'm not a doctor and I don't have a summer home in Switzerland. Same goes for "I wish I was a doctor." It just means I'm not a doctor. It doesn't mean it's impossible for me to become one, just that I'm not one right now. For instance, a medical student could say, "I wish I was a doctor (already)" because they simply aren't one yet.

While we use "wish" more about the past and present, and "hope" more about the future, it's not a rule. Here are some examples to make it clear there are no time restrictions for "hope" or "wish":

I hope Joan remembered to do the groceries. ("hope" + past)
I hope there's food in the fridge. ("hope" + present)
I hope Mark does well in his interview. ("hope" + future)

I wish I had bought a better present. ("wish" + past)
I wish I had more money. ("wish" + present)
I wish my landlord would stop bugging me for the rent. ("wish" + future)

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    I would say that "wish" is used more for things that the speaker can't control, while "hope" is for those that can take some input. Aug 4, 2022 at 5:54
  • @SoronelHaetir Do you think my three examples of "hope" are wrong then? The speaker has no control or input in the outcome.
    – gotube
    Aug 4, 2022 at 6:08
  • Don't forget that you can also wish someone a happy birthday, good luck etc. - not impossible or unlikely, just an expression of your goodwill towards them. Aug 4, 2022 at 8:30
  • "I wish my landlord would stop bugging me for the rent" and "I hope my landlord will stop bugging me for the rent" basically express the same sentiment.
    – barbecue
    Aug 4, 2022 at 13:20
  • I wish to point out that "wish" is not only about things that are impossible or unlikely.
    – psmears
    Aug 4, 2022 at 14:08

There is a grammatical difference.

I hope (that) I (will) pass the test.

I wish for a pony

Note that "hope" takes a finite clause, in the present tense (or future) as its complement. This content clause can have the conjunction "that", but it's optional.

On the other hand "wish" (used in this way) has a prepositional phrase, typically "for ...". In these cases the item that you wish for is generally considered to be unobtainable by normal means. If it can be obtained you don't "wish for" it, you just "want" it.

Incorrect grammar produces many non-idiomatic expressions like "I wish you pass the test".

Now, wish also has a different meaning, with a past tense clause, expressing an unreal condition.

I wish I owned a bike. (I don't own a bike)

I wish he would be quiet. (He won't be quiet)

I wish I had read the instructions. (I didn't read the instructions)

Note the use of the past tense to express an unreal condition, so to talk a about past unreal conditions, the past perfect is needed.

This refers to present unreal conditions, it doesn't mean that the condition is unobtainable.

I wish I owned a bike, and I hope that I get a bike for my birthday.

I wish I was a doctor. (I'm not a doctor now, but I might be in the future)

You also use "wish" in various idiomatic expressions "I wish you good luck" and both "wish" and "hope" can be used as nouns

Understanding the different meanings of wish, and their different grammar avoids the errors that learners often make with these words. You must recognise that the grammar rules and meanings probably differ from the similar words in other languages, so word-by-word translation is often incorrect.

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