Learning English with Music: Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)

Since the late 60’s, Pink Floyd have been blowing our minds with awesome music, filled with deep philosophical lyrics that really leave us contemplating life.

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This versatile group were pioneers of their time for progressive rock music. They have been considered to have one of the most amazing live rock shows, as well as one of the most elaborate light displays ever.

But can they help me learn English? The answer is YES! I’m going to show you how this legendary band is going to help your English immensely.

In this article you’re going to help me decipher the real meaning behind the song “I wish you were here,” learn how to use the word WISH, sing along with the lyrics to practice your pronunciation, AND discover some interesting facts about the band.

Pink Floyd fact #1 Why the name PINK FLOYD?
The band was named after two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.

[media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTeXkHfWYVo” width=”600″ height=”400″]

If you don’t have this song, download it instantly for free using Audio Thief. Learn more here.

               Verse 1

So, so you think you can tell 
Heaven from Hell, 
Blue sky’s from pain. 
Can you tell a green field 
From a cold steel rail? 
A smile from a veil? 
Do you think you can tell? 

Can you tell = Do you distinguish a difference between heaven and hell/ blue sky and pain etc.
Cold steel rail = The track of a train line.
A length of cloth worn by women over the head, shoulders, and often the face.

My Interpretation
In this verse, I believe he is ironically saying that people get so involved in their lives and their careers that they don’t take the time to stop and smell the roses. People are so interested in money and success that they don’t appreciate the little things in life.

To stop and smell the roses= To appreciate what you have, and not be so worried about what you don’t have.

What’s your interpretation??   Musical interpretation is 100% personal and we would love to hear what you think. Please comment on this article below.

Pink Floyd fact #2 The dark side of Oz
Many rumors have suggested that the album, The Dark Side of the Moon, is synchronized with the movie , The Wizard of Oz. Take a look for yourself here.

             Verse 2

And did they get you to trade 
Your heroes for ghosts? 
Hot ashes for trees? 
Hot air for a cool breeze? 
Cold comfort for change? 
And did you exchange 
A walk on part in the war 
For a lead role in a cage? 

Trade= To exchange something for another.
Ashes= The grayish-white to black powdery residue left when something is burned.
Breeze= A light current of air; a gentle wind.

My Interpretation
In this verse, I understand that he is asking us, did you sell out? Did we sacrifice our values for money or power.  In reference to the band, they are probably referring to how money and fame have changed who they are, and probably how people treat them. In the phrase “for a lead role in a cage,” I believe he is saying, although you might be a leader, you’re still a prisoner, working for the man.

Sell out= To forget about doing something for the love of it, and doing something for the wealth it brings.

What’s your interpretation??  Please comment on this post below.

Pink Floyd fact #3 Monty Python 

The band were really big fans of Monty Python. In the early 1970’s Pink Floyd and Led Zepplin helped fund the production of The Monty Python movies.

How I wish, how I wish you were here. 
We’re just two lost souls 
Swimming in a fish bowl, 
Year after year, 
Running over the same old ground. 
And how we found
The same old fears. 
Wish you were here.

Running over= Repeating the same thing

My Interpretation

In this verse I think he is singing about how he is not content with the way things are. When he used phrases, “year after year,” and “same old ground, same old fears,” he’s expressing that he is stagnate and can’t grow because of his fears.

This same interpretation can also be used in language learning. People are too afraid of their accent, feel embarrassed speaking, and ultimately too scared to make a mistake that their English remains stagnant.

What’s your interpretation??  Please comment on this post below.


Did you make a wish for your last birthday? If you rub a genies lamp how many wishes would you get? Best wishes for you and your family!

So, with the examples above, can you decipher what wish means?

In the above examples, I used the word wish as a noun but, there are many different ways to use it as a  verb. I’m going to show you 4 structures of how we use this awesome word, WISH.

The general meaning of the word is: To express desire for something that doesn’t exist now.

1. Subject + Wish + Someone

This is one of the most commonly heard uses of the word wish. We use it this way to congratulate people.

I wish you the best of luck / We wish you a merry Christmas / She wished me a Happy Birthday

2. Wish + Past Simple

We use this to talk about present desires. This expresses that you want something or a situation to be different.

I wish I had more time / I wish I bought that car yesterday / She wishes she lived in a big house

I wish I didn’t have to work / She wishes she didn’t eat that pizza

A common problem with this use is when using the verb to be, I wish I was/ I wish I were.

Both of these examples would be correct, but using “I wish I were” sounds more formal and is more common in test and written English.

 “I wish I was” which we tend to use more in spoken, colloquial English.

3. Wish + Past Continuous

We use this form of wish to say that we want to be doing something else at this moment.

I wish I was swimming at the beach / She wishes she was reading her favorite book

I wish I wasn’t working so much / they wish their football team wasn’t losing

4. Wish + Past Perfect

When used with the past perfect we are expressing that we want to change something we did in the past. It’s a good way of showing regret.

I wish I had seen you at the party / He wishes he had been there / We wish he had paid on time

I wish I hadn’t arrived late / They wish they hadn’t lost the game / She wishes she hadn’t spent so much time on her paper

5. Wish + Would + Infinitive

This is used to show that you are unhappy with something that’s happening right now.

I wish you would stop talking so much / He wishes she would stop smoking

They wish he wouldn’t make so much noise  / I wish you wouldn’t behave like that


Want to Learn More About Pink Floyd?

Check out the article, Learn English with Music: Time (Pink Floyd)

As you have just seen with this song, sometimes the interpretation of a song can be something that changes from person to person, especially with such ambiguous lyrics like in a lot of Pink Floyd’s music. If you have a different understanding of this classic track, we would love to hear about it in the comments, or on the Real Life English facebook page.


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  • Jose Optimista

    Well, I have heard that the real meaning of this song is that it was dedicated to Syd Barret the first singer of Pink Floyd who had serious problems with drougs and he almost was crazy. In fact when he left Pink Floyd were in his parent’s house a lot of years almost without to go out. And maybe for that they talk about ashes in a metaphorical way and other things. Well, if you read about the life of Syd Barret, maybe you could find a meaning to all I said. Saludos from Spain!