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Wishing

§ 39.

We use two common ways to express our wishes: the verb to wish and using the exclamation if only. It has the same meaning as wish but is more dramatic. In both cases the following verbs are back-shifted like the tenses in indirect speech and hypothetical conditional sentences.

So, in wishing about the present we use wish (that) + subject + a past tense. These are wishes where you want to change a present state:

I wish I knew his address. ~ I’m sorry I don’t know his address.

Wish can be put into the past without changing the subjunctive:

He wished he knew the address. ~ He was sorry he didn’t know the address.

Unreal past tenses do not change in indirect speech:

I wish I lived nearer my work,’ he said. ~ He said he wished he lived nearer his work.

§ 40.

In wishing about the past we use wish (that) + subject + past perfect (subjunctive). These are wishes referring to a past event, which can’t be changed:

I wish (that) I hadn’t spent so much money. ~ I’m sorry I spent so much money.

Wished can replace wish without changing the subjunctive:

I wished I hadn’t spent so much money. ~ I was sorry I had spent so much money.

These verbs will be reported unchanged:

I wish I had taken his advice,’ she said. ~ She (said she) wished she had taken his advice.

§ 41.

In wishes about the future, we use could and would and other forms of modals. Would here means decide to’:

I wish I could stop it.

When we are talking of the pure future, as in Perhaps it will be fine tomorrow, the corresponding wish can only be expressed by hopeI hope it will be fine tomorrow and not I wish it would be fine tomorrow. Notice that we use would in future wishes only with actions which the subject can control, i.e. actions he could change if he wished. Wish + would here can express interest in the subject’s willingness / unwillingness to perform an action in the present. This is usually a habitual action:

I wish he would write more often. ~ I’m sorry he isn’t willing to write more often.

The subject of wish cannot be the same as the subject of would, as this would be illogical. We cannot therefore have I wish + I would.

I wish you would is a possible request form. Here there is no feeling that the person addressed will refuse to perform the request, but there is often a feeling that this person is annoying or disappointing the speaker in some way: I wish you would help me often implies ‘You should have offered to help me,’ and I wish you would stop humming would imply that the speaker was irritated by the noise. However, the expression I wish you would can be used in answer to an offer of help, and does not then imply any dissatisfaction:

Shall I help you? ~ I wish you would. (I’d be glad of your help.)

§ 42.

As with conditional clauses, we use subjunctive were for all persons in making more formal wishes, but in all clauses we hear was increasingly often:

I wish it was over.

§ 43.

To wish is a stative verb and therefore we do not normally use it with the progressive. So, never I am wishing that – nor do we use it with so / not. I hope so but not I wish so.

Although its main use is to express wishes, we use it for other functions:

I wish you would stop that. (annoyance / command)

I wish I knew how to find it. (indirect request for help)

I wish I hadn’t said that. (regret)

I wish I could help. (polite refusal)

I wish I could believe you. (polite disbelief)

I could have wished you had done better. (understated disappointment)

I do wish you would be more punctual. (reprimand)