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Wish or Hope: What’s the Difference?

 

If you’re like most English learners, you confuse the words wish and hope.

These two terms are similar—both dealing with desires—but the meaning and context of them is very different. Using one in the place of the other can sound strange and even cause misunderstandings.

Thanks to a recommendation from one of our community members, I decided to give you a guide this week that will help you understand the difference between these two words, and stop making mistakes when using them.

Plus, there is a short quiz at the end to test your knowledge, so pay attention! Are you ready?

Definitions

Hope is for talking about aspirations. Use hope

  • Generally in a positive way
  • When you have control of the outcome
  • When the outcome you want is possible/probable
  • With present or future tense (exceptions later)

Wish is for talking about wants or regrets. Use wish

  • Generally in a counterfactual way (that is, to talk about something that is different from the true situation).
  • When you have no control over the outcome
  • When the outcome you want is impossible/improbable
  • With past or present tense

Examples

hope i winHope

  • I hope you pass your exam (NOT I wish you pass your exam).
    • WHY? Positive, in someone’s control, possible, present tense
  • We hope we’ll be able to join the camping trip, but we need to find a babysitter first (NOT We wish we’ll be able join the camping trip, but we need to find a babysitter first).
    • WHY? In someone’s control, possible, future
  • They hope to move to France next year if they can sell their house (NOT they wish to move to France next year if they can sell their house).
    • WHY? Positive, in control, possible, present

i_wish_i_was_a_cat_by_qunpowder-d7vn97dWish

  • I wish you had passed your exam (NOT I hope you had passed your exam).
    • WHY? Counterfactual, no control (already happened), impossible, past tense
  • We wish we could join you on the camping trip, but we have to watch the kids (NOT We hope we could join you on the camping trip, but we have to watch the kids)
    • WHY? Improbable, present
  • They wish they could move to France, but they can’t sell their house (NOT They hope they could move to France, but they can’t sell their house)
    • WHY? No control, impossible, present

Something worth noting is that oftentimes our hopes turn into wishes. For example:

  • I hope I’ll pass the exam à then you didn’t pass it so à I wish I had studied harder and passed the exam
  • I hope to get fluent in English while living in Canada à I wish I had made more of an effort to get fluent while living in Canada.

Exceptions

We don’t tend to use hope in the past tense. The exception would be if you have a bad memory about something:

  • I hope I turned off the oven before leaving home (you’re not sure if you turned it off because of bad memory)

VS.

  • I wish I turned off the oven before leaving home (you know you didn’t turn it off and you regret it).

Note: Using ‘Expect’

Expect-the-unexpectedExpect is for talking about something that is likely to happen. In some languages, expect is a false-cognate (false-friend) with hope.

These two terms are quite similar. But whereas hope usually infers uncertainty with the outcome, expect shows that we believe there will be a certain outcome.

Examples:

  • You’ve studied a lot, so I expect you’ll have no problem passing the exam.
    • “You’ve studied a lot, so I hope you’ll have no problem passing the exam” would show that we are less certain this person will pass his exam.
  • We expect we’ll be able to join the camping trip, but we need to find a babysitter first
    • We are almost certain that we will find a babysitter and be able to join the trip.
  • They expect to move to France next year when they sell their house
    • They are almost certain they will sell their house

Test your Learning!

Now I have a short quiz, which will help you test everything you have learned in this article.

Try your best to complete the quiz without referring to the text above.

What are your hopes? What are your wishes? Give me some examples in the comments section below the quiz!

 

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  • betty huang says:

    Hey Ethan, I read this article again and took a note. Finally, I got 100 point in a quiz! And I found that you used different words with same example, it did helped me understand easily.

    I’d like to share good news with you, I took TOEIC exam again in May. My new score is 655, I am improved! I’m so happy to learn English with Real Life guys. It’s a fun and natural way to improve English. Thanks a bunch!!!

    I’m happy with these results, but I still need more practice, my goal is 730, I wanna get blue certificate! I hope I’ll achieve my goal soon 😀

    • Ethan says:

      Wow Betty that’s such great news! I know you’ve worked really hard to get that far, and I’m so glad that we’ve been able to help you on your way :). I’m sure you will achieve your goal soon, and together we’ll change the world 😉

  • Robert Kenan says:

    This game is interesting but I will study harder.

  • juxi ko says:

    hi, I can’t see the quiz anymore…

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