Hope or Wish?

"Hope" and "wish," are very similar but not the same. They are both similar to "want" or "desire" but express less certainty of outcome.

"Hope" and "wish" are both verbs and nouns. Let's start with "hope" and "wish" as verbs.

As with all verbs that help us express emotion, the rules of when to use "hope" and "wish" may not always be clear or strict. This division can be blurry and even socially determined, differing from case to case. However, there are some very helpful guidelines.

Read on if you want to master these verbs in standard English.

First, memorize the easy general rule for each:

"Hope" is used more often but has fewer uses than "wish."

How to Use Hope:

Use "hope" to talk about desires or dreams that are possible/considered possible to fulfill. That means the speaker should believe the outcome is possible, even if it is not or other people do not believe it is possible.

Young children, for example, often "hope" for impossible things, but if they believe they can happen, using "hope" is still correct. Example: I hope Santa Claus will bring me a pet dinosaur for Christmas.


"Wish" is used less often but has more uses than "hope."

You can use "wish" to express the following:

With Standard Salutations:

I wish you a merry Christmas! (also New Year, etc. in North American English)

I called to wish you a happy birthday. (also anniversary etc.)

(Also correct but not the standard: I hope you have a merry Christmas. I hope you have a happy birthday.)

Desires which are just ideals (theoretical ideals): I wish we could have world peace right now.

Desires which would require magic to fulfill: I wish I could travel in time.

Desires which are impossible (or more impossible than possible) to fulfill: I wish we could buy a house, but we simply don't have enough money yet.

"Wish" and "hope" are also nouns.

You can "make" a wish/the wish/wishes, but you cannot make a hope/the hope/hopes.

You can "have" them all (except one): hope/a hope/the hope/hopes/a wish/the wish/wishes.

Exception: You cannot "have wish."

Why not? "Wish" is always a countable noun. "Hope" is both a countable and uncountable noun. Countable nouns in singular form always require articles a, an, or the.

It's always good to have hope for the future.

Here "hope" is an uncountable noun expressing hope as a general idea, while "a hope" is more like "a wish."

Birthdays are for making wishes and wishing.

Co-worker: I made this cake because I wanted to wish you a happy birthday. I hope you like chocolate!

You: Yes, thank you. When I saw it, I hoped it was chocolate.

Co-worker: Great! Close your eyes and make a wish. Then blow out your candles.