Don't you wish English grammar would be/was/were a bit....

audiolaik

Senior Member
Polish
Hi,

Today, when running a lesson on mixed conditionals and wishes, my beloved students and I did the following exercise*:

Correct the mistakes with verbs in four of these sentences.
a) ....
b) ....
c) Don't you wish English grammar would be a bit easier to understand?
d) ....
e) ....
f) ....
According to the teacher's book, sentence "c" is supposed to be wrong. The authors suggest that one change "would" either into "was" or "were". If I were to sit such a test, I would definitely cross out "would" and choose one of the past forms of the verb "to be". However, one of the learners asked whether or not one could leave the sentence as it was. She based her opinion on what she had found in the same book.

You can use wish + would to criticise other people or an aspect of the present situation that you are unhappy with.
To tell you the truth, the more I read both the example and the rule, the more I tend to think that she is right.

So, is "would" acceptable or not?

Thank you!

Audiolaik

* CAE Result, Oxford
 
  • WyomingSue

    Senior Member
    English--USA
    Some forum members are very good with grammar rules. My answer is just based on ear, not a rule book. I would say "Don't you wish English grammar were a bit easier to understand?", using the subjunctive for one of its rare appearances in English.
    Oddly, I can think of some examples using would: "I wish you would pick up your clothes." "I wish he would call me." There must be some rule--it's certainly annoying when people say they don't know why but it just sounds right/wrong!
    By the way, there seemed to be no suitable forum for expressing this earlier this week, but our condolences on the plane crash and the loss of so many people near Katyn.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I would say "Don't you wish English grammar were a bit easier to understand?", using the subjunctive for one of its rare appearances in English.
    So would I, WyomingSue

    Oddly, I can think of some examples using would: "I wish you would pick up your clothes." "I wish he would call me." There must be some rule
    Yes, there are rules, and I know them. The point is why you consider "would" wrong in the example I provided.

    it's certainly annoying when people say they don't know why but it just sounds right/wrong!
    I got used to it!:D


    By the way, there seemed to be no suitable forum for expressing this earlier this week, but our condolences on the plane crash and the loss of so many people near Katyn.
    Thank you for mentioning that horrible accident. I'm wasn't a big fan of my late president, but he didn't deserve that. None of the passengers did. I do hope more people find out what really happened there almost 60 years ago.
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I'd suggest the apparent inconsistency is due to the "wish+would" rule being incomplete. I presume it means this structure:
    "I wish you would shut up."
    "I wish the weather would improve."
    "I wish English grammar would cease to exist."

    These are all fine, but none of them use "would be": they all wish for actions on the part of the subject (actually "be quiet" works as long as it refers to the action of shutting up).

    I saw an explanation in a grammar lesson which said:
    "We use wish...would to express a wish to someone to do something". Of course, it doesn't have to be a someone, but you do need to wish it do something rather than be something other than what it is.
     
    Last edited:

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I'd suggest the apparent inconsistency is due to the "wish+would" rule being incomplete. I presume it means this structure:
    "I wish you would shut up."
    "I wish the weather would improve."
    "I wish English grammar would cease to exist."

    These are all fine, but none of them use "would be": they all wish for actions on the part of the subject (actually "be quiet", works as long as it refers to the action of shutting up).

    I saw an explanation in a grammar lesson which said:
    "We use wish...would to express a wish to someone to do something". Of course, it doesn't have to be a someone, but you do need to wish it do so something rather than be something other than what it is.
    Thank you, MM, for your hit-the-nail-on-the-head reply! Now I know why she is wrong.:D:D:D
     

    giovannino

    Senior Member
    Italian, Neapolitan
    I'm grateful to audiolaik for asking the question as it prompted such a great explanation from MM:thumbsup:
    I have a related question. Take the following sentences:

    A) I wish he didn't smoke in front of the children

    B) I wish he wouldn't smoke in front of the children

    Would A) be used only to refer to a habit? The man isn't necessarily smoking now. I am complaining about a regular habit of his.

    Can B) be used to refer both to what is going on at the time of speaking (the man is smoking in front of the children now and I wish he wouldn't) and to a regular habit?
     

    pickarooney

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    For me, in two lines:
    "I wish X would..." expresses a desire to see change.
    "I wish X was/were..." expresses regret about something that is unchangeable.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    A) I wish he didn't smoke in front of the children

    B) I wish he wouldn't smoke in front of the children

    Would A) be used only to refer to a habit? The man isn't necessarily smoking now. I am complaining about a regular habit of his.

    Can B) be used to refer both to what is going on at the time of speaking (the man is smoking in front of the children now and I wish he wouldn't) and to a regular habit?
    Hi,

    When I'm discussing such issues with my students, I always tell them this:

    I wish he didn't smoke in front of the children
    I'm sorry he smokes in front of the children.

    I wish he wouldn't smoke in front of the children
    I'm sorry he refuses not to smoke in front of the children, or I'm sorry he isn't willing to stop smoking in front of the children. It could also mean than I'm sick and tired of his smoking in front of the children.

    Audiolaik
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    [...]
    I saw an explanation in a grammar lesson which said:
    "We use wish...would to express a wish to someone to do something". Of course, it doesn't have to be a someone, but you do need to wish it do something rather than be something other than what it is.
    This is interesting in the context of the sentence:

    c) Don't you wish English grammar would be a bit easier to understand?:cross:

    Consider the sentence

    Don't you wish the baby would be quiet?:tick:

    Here we are wishing that the baby be something other than what it is - at the moment it's howling - yet the use of wish it would is correct.

    I feel the grammar book needed to say, rather, you do need to wish it to do something which it is possible for it to do - obviously it cannot change its permanent characteristics. I suspect that that is what it meant by be something other than what it is. The grammar book instead of explaining the general case (acts which are impossible), has taken just one individual example (being something which you are not), and forgotten that one can do something which one is currently not doing (one can be quiet, even if currently one is howling). This led me to wish that the excellent point the book is making had been made with a bit more precision.

    It also reminded me of John Locke's point about the difference between primary and secondary qualities. You can wish someone would change their secondary qualities, but you can't wish they would change their primary ones, because they are permanent features, and, therefore, immutable. You can wish someone would smile, but not that an Indian would be Chinese. English grammar being easier is like the Indian becoming Chinese.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    For me, in two lines:
    "I wish X would..." expresses a desire to see change.
    "I wish X was/were..." expresses regret about something that is unchangeable.
    I'm with picka on this. I agree with MM's comment that "wish..would" is normally used with actions rather than states. But for me, an equally key issue is the possibility of change.

    EDIT: I think TT is making the same point:)
     
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