What's the difference between these two sentences? One uses past perfect, the other uses simple past. Which is more appropriate for wishing that something really happened in the past?

I wish I had studied English.

I wish I studied English.

Am I required to specify an event when using the past perfect? E.g.

I wish I had studied English before I came to the United States.

2 Answers 2


The answer from @WS2 is good as far as it goes.

But "I wish I studied English" does work. Consider

I wish I worked at IBM.

This means I wish I were employed at IBM.

So with the English study, the sentence without the "had" means I wish I were enrolled in an English class or I wish I had an English teacher to work with. (Self-study would also be an option, of course.)

Granted, "I wish I had studied" (in the past) is more commonly encountered.

  • I wish I studies English could mean past or present - more likely present.
    – WS2
    Sep 26, 2016 at 9:33

The past perfect is the one you need. Strictly an event is required, unless it is obvious to your addressee, or they were aware you were speaking very generally.

Edit. After considering comments made I would agree that no "event" need be expressed. But the past perfect is the only way of indicating that you are not talking about the present moment - which the simple past would imply.

  • The past perfect is the one you need but the event isn't necessary. In your example "I wish I had studied English before I came to the United States…" In the broad context the extra clause makes the sentence more interesting; perhaps even more useful but grammatically, it makes no more difference than "I wish I had studied English when I was wearing green socks…" Sep 25, 2016 at 23:43
  • @Robbie Goodwin You are correct, see my further edit. Apologies.
    – WS2
    Sep 26, 2016 at 9:37
  • Thanks WS2 and you're still right about the past perfect Sep 26, 2016 at 19:02

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