From my textbook:

I wish the earthquake never happened.

Answer key: I wish the earthquake had never happened.

Can I say the following sentence?

I wish (that) the earthquake didn't happen.

If I could, what's the difference between them?

I wish (that) the earthquake hadn't happened.

I wish (that) the earthquake didn't happen.

4 Answers 4


"I wish the earthquake didn't happen" will sound incorrect to native speakers of English, because did/do is not used as a subjunctive verb in English, but had is very commonly used for subjunctive statements. This may be confusing, because had is also used for non-subjunctive statements (the past tense of have): "I had not considered leaving before the earthquake hit." which could also correctly be said as: "I did not consider leaving before the earthquake hit."

"I'm glad the earthquake didn't happen" is valid, because it would express a matter of fact (if that were true). But since the earthquake DID happen, then any reference to it not happening is hypothetical or unreal, which is what the subjunctive mood conveys: what might have been.

One might also correctly say:

  • "I wish I had left town before the earthquake" - because one did NOT in fact leave
  • "I'm glad I did leave town before the earthquake" - because one DID in fact leave
  • "I wish I hadn't stayed in town on that day"
  • "It's good that I didn't stay in town"
  • "I wish the earthquake would not have happened" - using a modal verb would to say the same thing

Notice the pattern: "I wish..." always employs the subjunctive mood, because it is speaking of a hypothetical or imaginary situation that is not real or true right now, especially speaking of the past.

In summary: did/didn't refers to actual, real events or matters of fact, and had/hadn't often refers to potential but unreal events which are desired or hypothetical.


The 1st sentence is in the Past perfect and the 2nd in Past simple.Difference between these two tenses is of the time frame.

When you narrate, in the present, an event that happened somewhere before i.e. in the past, you would use Past Simple. Whereas, Past perfect is used when you talk about an event that was completed before some specific point in the past.

For a better understanding of the diff between the two, you can visit here: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/past-perfect/

In your question, the first one implies that you wish that an earthquake which happened somewhere in the past, the effects of which have settled, had not happened. There is some point of time between the happening of earthquake and your narrating of the event. Use of Did Not implies that you are talking about a recent event.

Both of the sentences are grammatically correct. Which tense you choose would depend on the context and the time frame in which the main events are set in. There is no distinction when the sentences are taken out of context in the way it is done in this question.

For further clarification, read the answer to this similar question:
What is the difference between Past simple and Past perfect


Wish + that-clause

We use wish with a that-clause when we regret or are sorry that things are not different. We imagine a different past or present. (Cambridge Dictionary, from English Grammar Today

Wish + verb forms in the that-clause

We use a simple past verb form in the 'that-clause' after 'wish' for present and future meanings.

When we wish something about the past, we use the past perfect in the 'that-clause' after 'wish'.

I wish (that) we had a bigger car. (= We don't have a bigger car.)

I wish (that) she hadn't known about it. (=But she knew about it.)

The difference between the OP's sentences is:

I wish (that) the earthquake hadn't happened. (= I feel sad that it happened.)

I wish (that) the earthquake didn't happen. (= I feel sad that it happens or will happen.)


In I wish the earthquake did not happen, you imply that the earthquake happens regularly, which would be incorrect. Again, in I wish the earthquake never happened, you say the same thing.

However, I wish the earthquake had not/never happened is different because it means:

  • Once, an earthquake happened.
  • You wish for something impossible: that the earthquake had never happened.

The latter is the correct answer.

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