I wish I < was / am> a millionaire

Discussion in 'English Only' started by iamconfused, Mar 9, 2012.

  1. iamconfused Member

    Hello there! I have a problem using the "wish" word. For example, below are two sentences and I wonder which is correct:

    (1) I wish I was a millionaire.


    (2) I wish I am a millionaire.

    Please advise me which is the correct statement when I am speaking to somebody now. Could you explain to me how and when to use the above statements. Could you give me more examples too, to help me in my understanding. Thank you very much.
  2. wiiremote New Member

    English - Ireland
    the answer is"I wish I were a millionaire"...it express a virtual tone of voice
  3. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Hi Iamconfused.

    Wishing is usually concerned with hypothetical states, so we often use the subjunctive, as in I wish I were an X. We don't say your 2. I wish I am an X:cross::thumbsdown:.

    There are people, mostly BE speakers, I think, who'd say your 1. I wish I was an X, where the possibility of being an X is considerable. Thus they'd say I wish I were the man on the moon (completely impossible) but I wish I was in Paris (not out of the question: maybe you go to Paris quite often).

    In my experience on the forum, most AE speakers, and quite a lot of BE speakers, insist on the subjunctive formula, but I should let them speak for themselves.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
  4. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    English / England
    Certain people may hold out for the subjunctive but you rarely hear it used. In this context most native speakers would say "I wish I was a millionaire."
  5. Well, "insist" might be a bit strong. :) In careful AE speech and in writing, I think it would likely be "I wish I were a millionaire," but in casual speech many people would use was.
  6. modulus Senior Member

    ইংরেজি - আমেরিক
    As TT pointed out, the subjunctive form is very common in AE. So much so, that you may be "corrected" if you used the indicative form. Of course, there is no shortage of AE speakers who use the indicative form---I’m not one of them.

    Sorry a little edge, didn't see your reply before posting mine.
  7. iamconfused Member

    I am still confused. Is the (2) sentence completely wrong? Why can't I say : "I wish I am a millionaire", because I want to mean it NOW. I want to mean at the present time, now, that I wish to be a millionaire. UI hope you know what I mean.
  8. modulus Senior Member

    ইংরেজি - আমেরিক
    Sentence 2 is completely wrong.

    You can say: I want to be a millionaire now.
  9. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Yes, Iamconfused, as I told you, 2 is never said. I suspect the point is that you aren't a millionaire now, so you can't use the present. The wish is in the present, and that is in the present tense, after all.
  10. iamconfused, see TT's response (#3). Yes, sentence (2) is completely wrong. You can't say "I wish I am a millionaire," no matter how much you want the money now. I will leave it to a grammarian to explain why the past or subjunctive tenses are required, but required indeed they are.

    Edited to add: Oops! And see TT's response (#9).
  11. iamconfused Member

    I hope you guys know what I mean. To me when you say: "I wish I was a millionaire." sounds like 10 years ago, I wished to be a millionaire. But what I want to say is NOW. Right now I wish to be a millionaire. Hope you get what I mean. What also confused me is that I have heard of people using present tense for the "wish" word like "I wish you have brought me my present now." Please correct me. Is it true the the tense used with a "wish" word must always be a past tense like in (1) sentence? Please advise. Thank you.
  12. modulus Senior Member

    ইংরেজি - আমেরিক
  13. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    We've been advising you like mad for some time now, Iamconfused. Please take our word for this.

    If I heard someone say I wish you have brought me my present now:cross::thumbsdown::eek::warn:, I'd think they were a foreigner just starting to learn the language, with a long way to go still. It should be I wish you you had brought me my present now.
  14. iamconfused Member

    I can't believe you could say that you had been advising me like mad now. And I can't believe you are so impatient to teach or advise. If I really don't understand, shouldn't I clarify and ask more questions? It is only just a few questions and you are mad now. I hope you are not a teacher by profession. It wasn't that I was rude or what, just being more inquisitive. Is that a problem here? Please be more patient with me. I hope I am not asking too much as I truly don't understand dully.

    My question 1) Is it true that the tense used with a "wish" word MUST be a past tense like in (2) sentence?

    My question 2) are there any examples where present tense can be used with the "wish" word?

    Please advise. Thank you again.
  15. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    To do something like mad means to do it a great deal. It has nothing to do with anger.

    The answers to your questions are, in my view: 1. Yes (I'm assuming you mean as in sentence 1 (in the OP)), 2. No.

    Please go on asking, but remember that we don't say these things lightly, so if you repeat a question, you make it seem as though you haven't read the answer we've already given you.
  16. iamconfused Member

    Hi Thomas, hope you aren't offended by me. I really don't understand, that's why I keep asking. Isn't it good to ask if you don't understand. That's how I learn.
    Well, I am cool with you now.

    My question (1) doesn't just mean to be in the format as in sentence (1). I would also like to know if past tense MUST be used directly after the "wish" word even if it is not a sentence expressing hypothetically.

    Here's another question. Can I say, "I wish I was a millionaire now." With the word "now" in the sentence, should I continue to use the past tense "was"? This is stupid question to me but please be kind to correct me though. Thank you very much.
  17. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Hi Iamconfused,

    Keep asking, but please take me seriously. I'm not in the least offended, so don't worry about that.

    Certainly in BE you can say I wish I was a millionaire now, particularly if you have recently been one and lost a lot of money.

    If you are a poor man and always have been, then the possibility is remote, and in both BE and AE you'd say I wish I were a millionaire now.

    I can think of no case where I wish that is followed by the present, because if you are something there's no point in wishing you were that thing. Remember that the idea of what you call NOW is there in the present tense of wish.
  18. iamconfused Member

    Thank Thomas. I am taking you seriously, of course. Now I understand that I should always use a past tense after a "wish" word. Even despite having a "now" word in it, I will continue to use a past tense from now onwards. Thanks again. Correct me if I am wrong.
  19. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I think you've got it now. Best wishes:).
  20. iamconfused Member

    Thank you Thomas!
  21. klcc2009 New Member

    hi all , i am first time here and like this environment so much but please you deeply confuse me with such words like BE or AE . what are those words meant? Are you trying to say British English and American English respectively ?
  22. modulus Senior Member

    ইংরেজি - আমেরিক

    Yes, you are right. Generally, abbreviations are not allowed in this forum. But there are a few exceptions.
    Here you'll find a complete list: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1112873&p=5765278#post5765278
  23. iamconfused Member

    yes you are right, klcc2009. If you stick around long enough, you'll get used to it. It was like this to me when I was new here. :)
  24. -mack-

    -mack- Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    American English
    BE = British English
    AE/AmE = American English

    If you really want to know why it's the past tense, it's because in this case, it's actually not "past tense," it's the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood is employed when you're expressing something that is hypothetical or known to be untrue. Yes, you wish you were a millionaire now, but you are not a millionaire, and English employs the subjunctive to indicate that the statement is not true now. When we use the subjunctive like this in English, the past tense form of the verb is used. In the case of "I wish ____," I don't think I can think of an example where the present indicative would be correct — it has to be subjunctive because you know it is not true; that's why you're wishing it were* true.

    Also, the other responders are correct — while you hear "I wish I was _____" frequently in AE, you also hear "I wish I were"/"I wish it were," and some AE speakers may consider "I wish I was"/"I wish it was" to be incorrect. Personally (I'm American), I say "I wish I were." This is actually a case where American English has retained an older system than British English.

    The same rule applies when you say "If [something that is not true], then [result]." Example: "If he were taller, he could play basketball." "If it weren't so cloudy, it'd be a nice day."

    It's a complex concept — a lot of times for native speakers, it's simply what "sounds right" and what doesn't.

    [*Again, I'm American, BE speakers would say "was" where I say "were," I think.]
  25. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Hi Mack,

    It might just be worth saying that some BE speakers in these cases say both was (in the case of lively possibilities) and were (in the case of complete impossibilities). I'd hoped I'd been clear about that earlier.

    I'm glad you didn't use the word counterfactual in your sentence, because I worry that the word seems to cause people to confuse things which could be the case but actually aren't, like my being in Paris, with things which in fact could not be the case, like my being Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.
  26. iamconfused Member

    Hi mack, thank you so much for that detailed explanation. I really appreciate it. The explanation is helpful for me to understand better why things are in a particular way. Thanks again, mack. You are very helpful indeed to put your effort to explain to me. Thank you again. But I still don't know what you mean by subjunctive. Anyway, it isn't that important, right! Thanks.
  27. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Don't worry for the time being about the subjunctive, Iamconfused. It's almost perished in English.
  28. iamconfused Member

    Hahaha! Thomas, do you mean subjunctive is going to be out-dated soon as in "perished"?
  29. -mack-

    -mack- Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    American English
    It still exists; it just looks the same as the past tense. It's like the present, past, and future — you also have subjunctive. In English, subjunctive looks the same as past tense. You're using past tense forms of verbs not because something happened in the past, but rather because it is hypothetical or untrue. The name for this is subjunctive. Thomas Tompion is probably right, though; you don't really need to worry about it, I was simply trying to explain why we use past tense when we are talking about right now. It's because it's subjunctive. Most native speakers are unaware that this is called subjunctive, they just instinctively employ it.
  30. a.d.a.m Member

    English is not my mother tongue as for iamconfused from China. I believe what Iamcofused tries to express is his present wish of being a millionaire. In my language we use present tense as well so for us the construction "I wish I were/was X" looks strange too. Let imagine you've caught a golden fish. One of your three wishes is the wish of being/becoming a millionaire. How do you respond, if the golden fish asks what your three wishes are? "The golden fish, I wish I were a millionaire?" or "The golden fish, my first wish is that I want to be a millionaire"? I guess iamcofused is seeking out the best way to ask his golden fish for wealthy life :)
  31. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    In 1926 Fowler said of the subjunctive in English that it was moribund except in a few easily specified uses. I didn't mean any more than that. When the time comes, learners need to know about those 'easily specified uses', of which this is one.
  32. -mack-

    -mack- Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    American English
    "Golden fish, I wish I were a millionaire!" or "Golden fish, I wish I was a millionaire!" (Then, boom! It turns you into a millionaire).

    English is funky, huh? Sometimes it doesn't make sense unless you grew up with it.
  33. iamconfused Member

    Thank you, mack. Your explanation is clear to me. Thanks mack. I really appreciate it.
  34. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    There's a difference between saying

    My first wish is that I want to be a millionaire - I'd prefer to say My first wish is to be a millionaire:tick::). and

    I wish that I am a millionaire:eek:, which has to be I wish I were (if it's out of the question) a millionaire.

    It seems I may have to say again that the present force of the wish is projected by the present tense of wish.
  35. klcc2009 New Member

  36. klcc2009 New Member


    yea i agree , the environment is so much beneficial and i will truly learn a lot , by the way you named yourself iamconfused where your English looks strong fixed rather , it is my opinion at least :)
  37. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Dear KLCC,

    You really must start capitalizing properly. The lower case i for I is particularly strange to us, as is the failure to capitalize the first letter of the first word in a sentence.
  38. klcc2009 New Member

    Oh! I was really careless! I was just writing quickly as a normal message in my phone. From now onwards , I will be aware as long as we are at considerable English forum

    Thank you Thomas for reminding me
  39. iamconfused Member

    I may be good at some point but there are some basic stuffs I could get wrong at times like the use of the "wish" and "if" words. Quite confusing to me especially these the words in use, I just confused with the tenses to be used in sentences with such words. Quite tricky i would say. I am still learning, man!

    Yeah, klcc2009, guess in this forum you have to write in proper English. That;s what this forum is all about! Cheers!
  40. iamconfused, I don't know if your language has a subjunctive tense or anything like what we have been discussing here with the use of "I wish," etc., but many European languages besides English do. And, if it's any consolation to you, it is just as confusing for us English speakers when we try to learn (for example) the French or Spanish subjunctive. Languages are tricky, and English among the trickiest of all. :)
  41. bicontinental Senior Member

    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    Hi iamconfused,

    I’m glad you seem less confused after all the excellent explanations above. :) I just wanted to add this:

    I understand that your wish is for now, for this moment. You wish to be rich now. And that’s why you use the present tense in the ‘I wish’- part (the independent sentence). But what you wish for is not and cannot be expressed in the present tense, indicative mood in English as many others have said above. And I would argue that if you are rich now, “I am rich”, there is no reason to wish for it to happen. I would find such a construction to defy logic and to be a contradiction in itself, therefore [again],

    I wish I am rich :cross:

    I wish I was or were rich [now]. 'I wish' is the present tense of the verb

    I wished I was or were rich [back then, sometime in the past] 'I wished' is the past tense of the verb

  42. iamconfused Member

    to a little edgy, hahahah! I am glad I am not the only one feeling this way. Thanks for responding. :)
  43. iamconfused Member

    Hi bicontinental, I get what u mean now. Thanks for the explanation. I can't possibly be "I am rich" and at the same time wishing. Right! Thanks for your attention, I really appreciate it.
  44. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    The reason why “I wish I were a millionaire.” has the verb “to be” in the subjunctive imperfect is that

    1. it is expressing a future uncertain/improbable concept.
    2. The verb “to be”, in this context, indicates a change of state which = to become (I wish I were a millionaire = I wish I became a milionaire.)

    The speaker is actually expressing the idea “I wish I will become a millionaire.”

    As “I wish I will be a millionaire.” is not possible as it is conditional/improbable, then this becomes, “I wish I would be a millionaire.”

    I wish I would be (also “I wish I would become/change into”) = I wish I were

    Here is a variation using the present tense in direct speech:

    Genie: “I am bound to give you three wishes, what is your command?”
    PaulQ: “Can I wish that I am immortal?” - am = become
    Genie: “Sorry, I am not that powerful.”
    PaulQ: “What if I wish that there is peace in the Middle East?” – is = exists
    Genie: “Let’s talk about immortality…”
  45. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I think there's a difference between becoming a millionaire and being a millionaire.

    The process isn't the point; it's the end result which counts.

    In the same way some old people are afraid of dying, but not afraid of being dead.
  46. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Of course there may be such a difference between to be and to become in most contexts but, the poster speaks of (following the wish) changing in to be a millionaire; this is the change that the geni must effect. The poster actually wishes for a change of state - to become
    I'm not too sure - the wish is intended to create the change and what is change if it is not a process? If you are not a millionaire, how can you be a millionaire without becoming a millionaire?

    Nevertheless, and setting aside become, the transition from will be -> would be -> were seems reasonable, absent wiser minds.

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