I wish I were/I wish I would

Hi,
Ever since I became WordReference user, I've learnt to be watchful as far as the grammatical rules are concerned. And recently I've come across one them which says that one mustn't use the construction "I wish..." for future references in the third person. For example, "I wish I were a good teacher" is correct, but if I were to construct such sentence as "I wish I would become a good teacher", it'd be incorrect. Would you comment on this, please? Is this rule correct or is it just one of those which doesn't go together with real life?
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    I'm a little confused because your examples are in the first person, not the third. If I wanted to refer to the future I would say "I wish I could become a good teacher" with the implied meaning that I am unable to become a good teacher no matter how much time passes.

    "I wish I were" is talking about the present: "I wish I were a good teacher but I am not."

    "Wish" is often a desire for an unattainable condition. If you want to state it in the positive you could say "I wish/hope to become a good teacher". "Hope" sounds more natural to me than "wish" in that context. "Wish" is a mild desire while "hope" is a strong desire.
     
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    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    "I wish I would become a good teacher" is not a good example; as JamesM says, in this case "could" is better.

    Another example is "I wish I were rich"; this is a dream, an unattainable situation. But if you say "I wish some rich relative would leave me a lot of money", then this is correct, because it refers to an (unlikely) future.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Hi,

    I'm far from calling myself a grammarian, but I'll try to express my point of view.

    I've always considered the combination of "wish + would" and the same subject illogical. Correct me if I'm wrong, but "subject1 + wish + subject2 + would" can be used in the following contexts:

    a) if subject 1 wants to lay stress on whether subject 2 is willing to do something or not

    b) if subject 1 has little or no hope for change in the future

    On the other hand, "could" (as in "I wish I could") conveys the idea of one's ability or possibility to perform an action, which would sound logical in your example, majlo.

    Of course, if somebody disagrees with me, I'm open to any criticism.:)

    A&AJnr
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I agree with you (both), A&AJr:

    I wish I would:confused:
    I wish I could:tick:
    I wish he would:tick:
    I wish he could:tick:




    EDIT: I've thought of an example in which "I wish I would" might work: I wish I would stop reacting to criticisms the way I do. But I think that "would" there is very similar to "could"....
     
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    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I agree with you (both), A&AJr:

    I wish I would:confused:
    I wish I could:tick:
    I wish he would:tick:
    I wish he could:tick:

    I think we all agree that "I wish I would" sounds wrong, but the question is why? Any comments on that, Auntie?

    EDIT: I've thought of an example in which "I wish I would" might work: I wish I would stop reacting to criticisms the way I do. But I think that "would" there is very similar to "could"....

    ???:D:mad:
     

    iskndarbey

    Senior Member
    US, English
    'Would' implies that the subject has control over the result. Hence it usually doesn't make much sense to say "I wish I would", because, if you did wish it, it would be within your power. You can however say "I wish he would change" since you don't have control over whether he wants to change or not.

    By the same token you can't say "I wish I will", because 'will' implies certainty over the outcome and 'wish' is used with unreal conditions.
     
    The reason why I asked this question is because I was at a loss what to tell my students the other day when I came across this rule because I'd never seen it before. Now, I realize that logic wouldn't be in favor of saying I wish I wouldn/wouldn't... but life (and language as its reflection) doesn't necessarily have to be logical. We don't always have control over our life, so if one wanted to say that He wishes he would stop reacting like that. even though he knows he will not overcome his short temper, grammar wouldn't mind? :)
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Wishing that something would happen is similar to hoping that something will happen, just a little more hypothetical.
    Wishing something about one's own actions is not grammatically wrong but is less probable than wishing it about someone else. However, there are cases where it sounds right:
    I wish I would win the lottery sounds OK to me, because winning depends on things outside my control.
     

    Wynn Mathieson

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    I wish I would win the lottery sounds OK to me, because winning depends on things outside my control.
    No, that's precisely why it doesn't sound right! "Would" implies volition and, as you say, whether or not you win the lottery (once you have bought a ticket) is entirely outside your control/volition.

    On the other hand, Loobs's "I wish I would stop reacting to criticisms the way I do" stands up because it is a compressed way of saying "I wish I would (take the decision to, make up my mind to) stop reacting to criticisms...".
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    No, that's precisely why it doesn't sound right! "Would" implies volition and, as you say, whether or not you win the lottery (once you have bought a ticket) is entirely outside your control/volition.
    On the other hand, Loobs's "I wish I would stop reacting to criticisms the way I do" stands up because it is a compressed way of saying "I wish I would (take the decision to, make up my mind to) stop reacting to criticisms...".
    "Would" normally implies volition, but someone else's:
    I wish you would be more impatient.
    Or else that of something inanimate, but personified in our imagination:
    I wish it would stop raining = I wish it would decide to stop raining.

    Loobs's example, I wish I would stop reacting to criticisms the way I do, is certainly not wrong but is an unusual case, because the person is expressing a wish about his/her own will. My point is that we say I wish (subject) would... hoping that the subject will decide (if only figuratively in the case of a situation or something inanimate) to do the desired thing. This is why it normally refers to the "will" of someone or something other than the speaker and therefore outside his/her control.
    I wish I would win the lottery means I wish the right numbers would come out for me to win.
     

    Wynn Mathieson

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    "Would" normally implies volition, but someone else's:
    I wish you would be more impatient.
    Or else that of something inanimate, but personified in our imagination:
    I wish it would stop raining = I wish it would decide to stop raining.

    Precisely. That is what makes I wish I would win the lottery wrong on both counts!
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Couldn't I wish I would win the lottery mean that it'd be great if I did but it's not very likely?

    To me, that's where "I wish I won the lottery" comes in. It's talking about an unreal present, hoped-for reality in the same way that "I wish I had a million bucks" is talking about an unreal present.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Hi,

    If I were to explain that issue to my students, I would advise them to follow the rule written by native English speakers for language learners. It means that we, non-native English speakers, ought to avoid using wish + would for the same subject, because there is every likelihood that we will make a mistake. Personally, I would simply tell my dear students to use wish + the past modal could (not would) to express a regret about a personal lack of ability, and wish + would to criticise other people or an aspect of the present situation that you are unhappy with/to talk about future situations that you want to change.
    To put it bluntly, if you want to use wish + would, then just use two different subjects. I don't think that even advanced students really need to know more than that. But I'm just a mediocre teacher of English, so I might be wrong....

    A&AJnr
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Couldn't I wish I would win the lottery mean that it'd be great if I did but it's not very likely?
    Well ... yes and no:)

    I wish I would x is common in non-standard varieties of English, where the meaning is identical to "I wish I could x".

    In standard English, I wish I would is pretty rare. I think it's only used in examples like the one I gave earlier: "I wish I would stop reacting to criticisms the way I do".

    Here, the idea is that "my will" is something different from "I/me". The implication is "I wish my will were/was strong enough to stop me reacting to criticisms [in] the way I do".

    To put it bluntly, if you want to use wish + would, then just use two different subjects.
    Wise words, Audio, wise words...:thumbsup:
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Precisely. That is what makes I wish I would win the lottery wrong on both counts!
    As I said, I wish I would win the lottery means I wish the right numbers would come out for me to win... so it's a wish about another subject. I wish I would stop reacting... is again in a certain sense about another subject because the speaker is standing aside and looking at himself from a critical external viewpoint.
    In reality I wish I would stop reacting... and I wish I would win... are both rare examples and I would tend to avoid them both. My only point was that one was as valid as the other.
    But I share the view of the others, that in general it's better to avoid I wish I would... and not to teach it to EFL students. :)
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    The snag is I don't think it was written by a native speaker. :) Anyway, I get the idea. Thank you everyone. :)

    You're wrong. The rule that one mustn't use wish + would for the same subject can be found in grammar books written by native English speakers....

    The fact that you weren't aware of the existence of such a rule doesn't mean that it rings hollow.

    A&AJnr
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    The rule that one mustn't use wish + would for the same subject can be found in grammar books written by native English speakers....
    All rules should be taken with a pinch of salt. They really are rules for people who just want to know how to sound natural in English, but there will always be situations that were not contemplated when the rule was deduced by observation of the language.
    The examples we have discussed above are unusual and I wouldn't teach them, but I wouldn't accept the rule in a rigid sense, as a prohibition.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    All rules should be taken with a pinch of salt. They really are rules for people who just want to know how to sound natural in English, but there will always be situations that were not contemplated when the rule was deduced by observation of the language.
    The examples we have discussed above are unusual and I wouldn't teach them, but I wouldn't accept the rule in a rigid sense, as a prohibition.

    Hi,

    I agree with you up to a point. Yes, you're absolutely right that rules are just rules, and they can be either broken or bent. I'm fully aware of the fact that what one can find in grammar books can sometimes sound artificial or unnatural. On the other hand, we have our students with their expectations and hopes (and their money!). I think it's sometimes better for teachers of English to tell their students to follow the rule(s) from their course book. Being with my students in my classroom, I'd treat the rule as a prohibition, even if one might come up with an example that would prove I was wrong.

    Many students are learning English with a view to taking exams such as FCE, CAE, BEC, etc. For the last ten years, I haven't come across any single test example that would involve the use of "wish + would" for the same subject....
     
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    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Hi,

    I agree with you up to a point. Yes, you're absolutely right that rules are just rules, and they can be either broken or bent. I'm fully aware of the fact that what one can find in grammar books can sometimes sound artificial or unnatural. On the other hand, we have our students with their expectations and hopes (and their money!). I think it's sometimes better for teachers of English to tell their students to follow the rule(s) from their course book. Being with my students in my classroom, I'd treat the rule as a prohibition, even if one might come up with an example that would prove I was wrong.

    Many students are learning English with a view to taking exams such as FCE, CAE, BEC, etc. For the last ten years, I haven't come across any single test example that would involve the use of "wish + would" for the same subject....
    I agree with everything you say! I'm sure that for students who want to pass exams the rules should be treated as something rigid; they need something they can be sure of.
    If, however, a student asks me about an example that seems to break the rule, I will tell him that it's not wrong but for exam purposes it's better to leave it aside. On the other hand, if a student with a very high level wants to discuss it, why not? By understanding the reason for the exception we also arrive at a better understanding of why the rule is valid in general.
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I agree with everything you say! I'm sure that for students who want to pass exams the rules should be treated as something rigid; they need something they can be sure of.

    That's what I meant, Einstein!:)

    If, however, a student asks me about an example that seems to break the rule, I will tell him that it's not wrong but for exam purposes it's better to leave it aside.

    Precisely!

    On the other hand, if a student with a very high level wants to discuss it, why not?

    Discussing such ambiguous issues is what I like the most! However, you're in a much better position to do that than I am, Einstein.:)
     

    PA_System

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Is it possible to use the negative? For example, I wish my neighbors wouldn't make so much noise.?
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Is it possible to use the negative? For example, I wish my neighbors wouldn't make so much noise.?:tick:

    There's no problem with using "I wish X would do/would not do something", when X is not "I". When you try to use it for the first person (I wish I wouldn't...)it doesn't really work. Loob provided an example where it does—kind of.

    Have you read all of this thread, PA_System? You may find it interesting.
     

    PA_System

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Yes, I have, veli. :) I did find it interesting. However, there was no mention of the negative form.
    Thank you for your reply. :)
     

    Ivan_I

    Banned
    Russian
    To me, that's where "I wish I won the lottery" comes in. It's talking about an unreal present, hoped-for reality in the same way that "I wish I had a million bucks" is talking about an unreal present.
    But doesn't it talk about a repetitive action?

    I wish I won the lottery (tomorrow). - (I think it's wrong unless you see tomorrow as every day)
    I wish I won the lottery every day. - OK

    What if I want to refer to a future action pertained to me? Isn't "I wish I would win the lottery tomorrow" the right way to put it.

    I want to win.../ I hope I will.... - don't count as they express different nuances.
     

    Ivan_I

    Banned
    Russian
    Could? If Loob says "could", it definitely is a good option. But winning is a chance. It has very little to do with being able (can-could). Plus, Einstein funds it correct. Somehow, I feel that "I wish I could win" distorts the intended meaning which is about a blind chance not someone's trying. I am at sea, join in!
     

    ATM0048

    New Member
    English
    There is no need to be at sea. Just accept that most native speakers, backed up by most grammar books, feel that 'I wish I would ...' is unnatural. We don't say it. End of story.

    Well, I wish I would have known that earlier. That statement should sound natural to a native speaker as it is actually a fairly common construction. That being said, “I wish I would...” can be a very peculiar phrase in most cases. However, there are times when it is the correct choice. Of course, “I wish I could...” is a perfectly fine and oft necessary construction, but the two hold different meanings and must be used in various cases. The main problem that is being faced is not if the phrase can be used but in what tense it can be used.

    Using “I wish I would...” is common enough in the past tense, though less common in the future (still not to the point of being rare). The phrase denotes a sense of removal of self most easily linked to a past or future self or else a self that is removed from the speaker because of circumstance. This is the difference between “I wish I could stop smoking,” and “I wish I would stop smoking.” The first one admits that they are incapable of the act and wish that they could overcome it. The second one implies that they believe that they are capable but that they feel distant from the self that is refusing to quit, despite it being in their physical capability to quit.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    Could? If Loob says "could", it definitely is a good option. But winning is a chance. It has very little to do with being able (can-could). Plus, Einstein funds it correct. Somehow, I feel that "I wish I could win" distorts the intended meaning which is about a blind chance not someone's trying. I am at sea, join in!
    But the fact is that we use 'could' in this way: Loob's sentence is, of course, 100% idiomatic.

    I wish I could win the lottery presents such a win as much less likely than I hope I will win the lottery tomorrow.

    It's a mistake to think of can/could as only expressing subjective ability; we also use them to indicate lucky chance, and such things as opportunity - I wish I could meet a pretty girl. I'm able to meet one, in that I have transport and am free most of the time and go to lots of parties, but none of the girls I meet are pretty.
     
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