There are three distinct types of I wish / if only sentences:
- Wish, wanting change for the present or future with the simple past.
- Regret with the past perfect.
- Complaints with would + verb.
If only / I wish + simple past
If only I knew how to use a computer. (I don’t know how to use a computer and I would like to learn how to use it)
- To express a wish in the present or in the future.
- The simple past here is an unreal past.
- When you use the verb to be the form is “were”.
I wish I were a millionaire!
If only / I wish + past perfect
If only I had woken up early. (I didn't wake up early and I missed my bus.)
- To express a regret.
- The action is past.
I wish / if only + would + verb
I wish you wouldn't arrive so late all the time (I'm annoyed because you always come late and I want you to arrive on time)
- To complain about a behavior that you disapprove.
- Expressing impatience, annoyance or dissatisfaction with a present action.
Would rather is used to show preference for one thing over another, for example:
I would rather eat fish tonight.
In this sentence 'would rather' means 'would prefer'. You could also say I would prefer to eat fish tonight.
The structure uses the verb in the infinitive without 'to'. Look at these examples:
- I would rather cook than wash the dishes.
- He'd rather visit London than Paris.
- We'd rather not go to the cinema tonight.
- We'd rather stay at home tonight.
- I'd rather go to the cinema on Tuesday.
You can also see how we abbreviate the subject and 'would'.
'Would rather' can also be used with a past tense but the meaning is present. For example:
I would rather he played football this year.
The difference is that we have two subjects so we use a past tense. After the second subject we use a past tense.
But as you can see, we are not talking about the past even though we are using a past tense. This is called the Unreal Past.
Look at these examples:
- I'd rather you went to pick up Tom from school.
- He'd rather you didn't come over for dinner tonight.
- Would you rather I wasn't so boring?
Remember that 'would rather' and 'prefer' can be used interchangeably:
- I'd rather text someone than talk by phone
- I prefer texting to speaking on the phone.