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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

[61] Unreal past (I): wishes

Hello everyone! We have already greeted autumn (and thereby our schools, universities, teachers, lessons, courses and many more:)) so I think it`s time we dealt with some harder stuff. Again I hope that this post will not remain a single episode and I will manage to write a collection of posts which will all explain something that we know as unreal past in English. Today I am going to write a couple of words about the use of WISH with respect to unreal past.

The area of English grammar in which we may come across with unreal past is I guess well-known to many of you. It very well explains the whole idea of unreal past (so past, which in reality does not refer to the past). Let`s have a simple conditional sentence: 

If I were you, I wouldn`t go there. 

What we recognize above is the second conditional. We also know that the whole idea included in the sentence is not about the past situation(s), but it is the hypothetical situation which takes place now (if I were you know, all life long). By building such a sentence we created some sort of unreal space in which elements denoted as past ones tell us something about present states of affairs. This is called unreal past. 

The same happens in a couple of cases in which the verb WISH appears. "To wish" lexically means "to want something to happen, or to be true even if it is less likely to be so". The examples below exist in a similar way. In this manner we may express our wishes, expectations, or even dissatisfaction with something. 

The pattern according to which we create such sentences is this: 


When we produce this type of a wish sentence, we express our general dissatisfaction with something that surrounds us, something connected with our body, or just virtually with anything. Let`s look:

I wish I was/were taller.      I`m sorry I`m too short.
I wish Elen liked me.        I`m sorry Elen doesn`t like me.
I wish I lived in a big city.     I`m sorry I don`t live in a big city.
I wish you are going with me.  I`m sorry you are not going with me.

What we see in the right column is just other way of expressing the same feeling. We can also notice that this refers to the present rather than the past. So, again, unreal past:)

Of course we may use this construction when we really mean something that took place in the past:

I was sorry I didn`t pay the bill then. = I wished I paid the bill then.

NOTE: This is sometimes translated by teachers, or authors of the workbooks in Poland as "Żałuję że NIE ....". Hence there are some problems with negations, which do appear in PL, but are absent from ENG version of the same sentence:

I wish I were taller. = Żałuję że nie jestem wyższy.

Of course, translations like: "Chciałbym być wyższy", lub "Życzyłbym sobie być wyższy" also perfectly work:)

If we want to express a wish which is impossible, we can do it using the modal verb "COULD"

I wish I could fly. = It would be nice to be able to fly.

If we in turn think about a wish which refers to the past and is impossible to be materialized (because, for example the chance to do it is already gone), we use PAST PERFECT:

I`m sorry I didn`t study in Oxford. = I wish I had studied in Oxford. 
He`s sorry he said that. = He wished he hadn`t said that. 

We use "WOULD" in order to express regret or annoyance caused by the fact that that something will not happen or does not happen. 


I`m sorry my boyfriend doesn`t take me to the cinema. = I wish my boyfriend would take me to the cinema.

I`m sorry it`s raining. = I wish it would stop raining. 

We`re sorry Tom doesn`t learn too much. = We wish Tom would learn more. 

We can translate them as: "Szkoda, że...," "Ubolewam, że..." etc.


I wish you would stop smoking.

I wish you wouldn`t drive so fast. 

Thus, all things considered, we had better pay attention to the use of would, which is different from the rest and puts the emphasis on expressing dissatisfaction, or irritation. 

In the next posts I will focus on other realizations of unreal past which are: would rather/sooner, it`s (high/about) time, as if/as though, had better.

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