I wish he would get well. & I wish he would pass the exam.

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8769

Senior Member
Japanese and Japan
I’m interested in the “I wish … would.” pattern.

I understand #1, below, is natural English.
(When someone is not willing to help you, you say to yourself.)
1. “I wish he would help us.”

I came across the following two sentences the other day in a grammar book published in Japan. The situations are given in the parentheses.

(When someone is in seriously bad physical condition and difficult to recover, you say to yourself.)
2. “I wish he would get well.”

(Someone is a very lazy student who doesn’t study at all, and he is going to have an exam soon. You say to yourself.)
3. “I wish he would pass the exam.”

Do the two sentences, #2 and #3, each make sense in the given situations?

I thought it would have been more acceptable if it had been as follows.
2’ “I wish he could get well.”
3’ “I wish he could pass the exam.”

Am I correct?
 
  • 8769

    Senior Member
    Japanese and Japan
    Thank you for your reply, envie de voyager.
    The given examples are acceptable....
    In the modal auxiliary verb "will" I sense "willingness," which I think contradicts recovery from disease in #2 and passing the exam in #3.

    What do you think?
     

    Thenthroot

    New Member
    English - American
    I don't really feel the connection to "willingness," and while every sentence here is correct, I think that given your descriptions preceeding each, the most accurate speech would be as follows:

    2. "I hope he gets better." OR "I wish he would get better."
    3. "I hope he passes the exam"

    The problem with using "could" is that in both of your sentences ("could get better," "could pass the test") you are saying that despite your hope, he will not get better, and he will not pass the test. The "wish...could" construction is a wish that can never be fulfilled. The "wish...would" construction is a wish that can be fulfilled but hasn't been.

    And "I wish he would pass his test" sort of implies that the person doesn't want to pass his test, hence why I think the "hope...will" construction is more appropriate.
     

    8769

    Senior Member
    Japanese and Japan
    Thank you for your prompt reply, Thenthroot.

    I don't really feel the connection to "willingness,"....
    Very interesting.

    I guess the subjunctive use of "would" might be less used, especially among the younger generation now.

    I'd be happy if you would make any comment.

    And I'd appreciate any comment from "more conservative" users. :)
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    What looks like a past tense after "I wish" is a vestige of the subjunctive. It is grammatically past tense but it does not refer to past time. Instead it refers to a time that may not ever be:

    He is not here.
    I wish he were here.


    Would is sometimes a sign of the conditional, but after "I wish", it is most likely to be simply the past (subjunctive) form of will:

    He won't help us.
    I wish he would help us.

    Won't above most likely means "refuses to" or "is not willing to" (this willing is an adjective, not the participle). Thus would above means something like "were willing to".

    Won't
    can also mean "is not going to", and the corresponding would means "were going to":

    He won't get well.
    I wish he would get well.

    He won't pass the exam.
    I wish he would pass the exam.

    I don't imagine the person refusing to get well, but he might refuse to pass the exam, so these sentences about the exam are ambiguous.

    Could can mean something like "would be able to", but in this context, it is most likely just the past (subjunctive) of can. Can't then most likely means something like "is unable to" and could means "were able to":

    He can't get well.
    I wish he could get well.

    He can't pass the exam.
    I wish he could pass the exam.

    Can
    has other meanings similar to, but different from, "be able to", so these sentences are ambiguous too, really.
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Although "will" originally only had the sense of a person's intentions or wishes, its use is of course now extended to include expression of the future and does not necessarily have the sense of a person's will ("will" is used in respect to things that have no will in any case).

    In statements beginning "I wish", what appears to be the past (would), as Forero points out, actually expresses the subjunctive, just as the past of "to be" does in "I wish I were". Fowler describes the use of the past here as expressing the "remoteness" of something that is not a fact but something desired.
     
    Last edited:

    Thenthroot

    New Member
    English - American
    Thank you for your prompt reply, Thenthroot.



    Very interesting.

    I guess the subjunctive use of "would" might be less used, especially among the younger generation now.

    I'd be happy if you would make any comment.

    And I'd appreciate any comment from "more conservative" users. :)
    Oooooh, it was really late last night. :( I think I understand what you mean now, and agree - you might say "I wish he would be willing to study" instead of "I wish he would study" and they mean the same thing. However, in your example - "I wish he would get well" - I'm sure he is quite willing to get better, so it's not always the case. :)
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    In my experience, English defective verbs, especially would, are always ambiguous. When I hear or read would, I have to keep all possibilities open except those that can be rejected based on context. Even with context, I believe there is always room for more than one interpretation of would.

    Would can be past tense (including past subjunctive) of will, which may or may not refer to a person's will in some way, or would can be a "conditional", with ambiguous tense:

    He wouldn't pass the exam (even if he cheated). [This might mean that he can't pass the exam - nothing to do with a person's will.]
    I wish he would pass the exam. [This would might mean "could" (with past subjunctive meaning) in the sense that would in the previous sentence (a conditional probably referring to present time) means can't.]
     

    Saurabh

    Senior Member
    English-British, Hindi
    What looks like a past tense after "I wish" is a vestige of the subjunctive. It is grammatically past tense but it does not refer to past time. Instead it refers to a time that may not ever be:

    He is not here.
    I wish he were here.

    Would is sometimes a sign of the conditional, but after "I wish", it is most likely to be simply the past (subjunctive) form of will:

    He won't help us.
    I wish he would help us.

    Won't above most likely means "refuses to" or "is not willing to" (this willing is an adjective, not the participle). Thus would above means something like "were willing to".

    Won't can also mean "is not going to", and the corresponding would means "were going to":

    He won't get well.
    I wish he would get well.

    He won't pass the exam.
    I wish he would pass the exam.

    I don't imagine the person refusing to get well, but he might refuse to pass the exam, so these sentences about the exam are ambiguous.

    Could can mean something like "would be able to", but in this context, it is most likely just the past (subjunctive) of can. Can't then most likely means something like "is unable to" and could means "were able to":

    He can't get well.
    I wish he could get well.

    He can't pass the exam.
    I wish he could pass the exam.

    Can has other meanings similar to, but different from, "be able to", so these sentences are ambiguous too, really.
    Such a nice explanation.

    Cheers.
     
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