Sometimes 'wish' subjuctive makes me(non-native speaker) confused. So, which is correct? I live here, she lives abroad. Somthing happend now, so I want to talk to her. In this situation:

a. I wish I could meet her now.
b. I wish I met her now.

I love her. I want to meet her more often, but can't (she lives abroad). So in this situation:

c. I wish I could meet her more often.
d. I wish I met her more often.

I think a,c are correct. How about b,d? Are b,d also correct especially in grammar?


In 'English Grammar and Usage by Leech', the author says "when the verb after "wish" is an action verb, the wish refers to the future and we use "would" or "could" instead of the Past Simple":

I wish the weather was warmer. (state)
I wish the weather would get warmer. (action)

In 'Cambridge English Grammar in Use', the author says "We use I wish...would... for actions and changes, not situations. Compare:

I wish Sarah would come. ('come' is action verb. So I wonder is "I wish Sarah came" wrong?)
I wish Sarah was(or were) here now. ('was, were' are state verbs, so past simple is ok.)
I wish somebody would buy me a car. ('buy' is an action verb, so I wonder is "I wish somebody bought me a car" wrong?)
I wish I had a car (had is a state verb, so past simple is ok.)

Also someone(English teacher) says: If the verb after wish is an action verb, use 'would' or 'could' instead of the past simple. It refers to the future.

For example: (Everyone changed out of their uniforms to casual dress except you) I wish I had changed clothes. -This refers to the past, and your regret that you didn't do something.

(It's hot and you're wearing sweats) I wish I could change clothes. -This talks about the future and refers to the action of changing.

These examples all described states:
I don't have a dog - I wish I had a dog
Today is Friday - I wish it were Saturday
I speak English - I wish I spoke French
I can't drink milk - I wish I could drink milk

So any verb that is used as an action requires 'would' or 'could.'
ex) I wish I changed my appearance. (not ok)
I wish I could change my appearnce. (ok)

This is why I asked this question. Meet(met) is 'action verb', so are 'b, d' correct or not?
In addition, is "I wish Sarah came" correct or not?
Is "I wish somebody bought me a car" correct or not?

I'm so confused now. English is very tricky. T.T


2 Answers 2


Wishes are unrealizable conditionals, so we backshift the tense of the verb. can is backshifted to could, will to would, and present simple meet is backshifted to simple past met. be is an exception because it has a proper subjunctive: am/are/is backshift to were.

You mention guidelines about action words for future actions, but the word now in examples a and b locates the sentences in the present, so these guidelines don't apply. Furthermore, these guidelines explain what you should do, but they don't explain why you should do it.

I believe that it is much more effective to go back to first principles and make a complete sentence that expresses exactly your wish as it can happen or is/will be happening, then backshift:

I am eating that cheesecake
I wish I were eating that cheesecake.

I can eat that cheesecake
I wish I could eat that cheesecake

My father will let me borrow the car
I wish my father would let me borrow the car

Note that eat is an action word, but the first two examples relate to the present so the "action verb" rule doesn't apply. The first example does not require could and the second example does. Working this way, you can see why could is necessary- because can expresses ability / permission, and can -> could. The third example is about a future event, so will -> would.

You are right that a) and c) are correct. To find out what's wrong with b) and d), remove the backshifts and see what you get:

b) I meet her now.
d) I meet her more often.

b) doesn't make sense because meet is present simple, and we don't use present simple for current events- we use present continuous. To find the correct way of talking about now, change that sentence to present continuous and backshift it:

b) I am meeting her now
b) I wish I were meeting her now.

d) doesn't make sense because more often requires some reference level. If you talk about capability, there is an impled reference level:

d) I can see her more often [than I do]
d) I wish I could see her more often [than I do]

  • Then, what's the difference between c and d? This site states that could meet refrers to the future, while met to the present. Sep 9, 2018 at 14:23
  • can / could talks about being able to do something or permission. meet / met refers to something actually happening. There is a difference in meaning when it's about permission: "I wish I could have a drink" and "I wish I had a drink". But not when it's about ability "I wish I could sing" and "I wish I sang". In this question, it's about ability.
    – JavaLatte
    Sep 9, 2018 at 14:26
  • @MvLog: The question states why I am not able to meet her: "I live here, she lives abroad."
    – JavaLatte
    Sep 9, 2018 at 14:31
  • @MyLog. I think that the use of "could" indicates that there is something preventing you from doing it. "I wish I could have a cat"- something is preventing me, for exampl a "no pets" rule in my apartment. "I wish I had a cat" - I simply don't have one.
    – JavaLatte
    Sep 9, 2018 at 14:39
  • I have added some more. Please check this.
    – Dasik
    Sep 9, 2018 at 16:29

The British Council says this about:


We use past tense forms to talk about wishes:

We use past tense modals would and could to talk about wishes for the future: [This is the OP's case. But the OP's sentence with now is not grammatical.]

1) I don’t like my work. I wish I could get a better job. That’s a dreadful noise. I wish it would stop. I always have to get home early. I wish my parents would let me stay out later.

2) We use past tense forms to talk about wishes for the present: I don’t like this place. I wish I lived somewhere more interesting. These seats are very uncomfortable. I wish we were travelling first class. Everyone wishes they had more free time. John wishes he wasn’t so busy. I wish it wasn’t so cold.

3) We use the past perfect to talk about wishes for the past: 3) I wish I had worked harder when I was at school. Mary wishes she had listened to what her mother told her. I wish I hadn’t spent so much money last month.

wish + past tense

So, something happened, you want to see her, so you should use a past tense modal to refer to what is a future time:

I wish I could meet her.

I wish I could meet her more often.

I wish I was [or were] meeting her today.

[that is OK]

Those wishes are really about a future. That's why met doesn't work. To express an idea in the present, we say: "I wish I lived [right now] where she lives". That idea can be expressed in the present.

PLEASE NOTE: Wishes expressed at a time in the present about the future use could and would.


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