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This question is all about grammar.

Say, a garden is forbidden and no children are allowed to play there.

At the present, a child might say "I can't play in the garden" and "can't" here means "to be not allowed to" and so

"I can't play in the garden" means "I am not allowed to play in the garden".

Now we use "wish" and we have to shift the tense. I am not sure if we mechanically change "can" to "could" in this case (as I learned in grammar class).

For example, "I wish I could play in the garden"

However, "could" in this case doesn't convey the idea of "to be allowed to".

Most grammar books say "change 'can' to 'could'" without any further explanation.

Is it correct to say "I wish I could play in the garden" or "I wish I were allowed to play in that garden"?

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    I'd say that "I wish I could play in the garden" does convey the idea of "be allowed to". In clauses expressing modal remoteness, we use preterite (past) "could", not present "can". Your last two examples are fine, and just two different ways of saying the same thing.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 16, 2021 at 11:26
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    Does this answer your question? Using "could" and "couldn't" to express permission in the past. Also Is there any case you can't switch Could with 'Was able to'?, where the accepted answer points out The precise meaning of "can/could" does not have perfect overlap with the notion of possibility. Sometimes it expresses permission. Commented Oct 16, 2021 at 12:11
  • @FumbleFingers so in a formal sentence "I could play in the garden" does not mean "I was allowed to play in the garden" but in an informal sentence, it does?
    – Tom
    Commented Oct 16, 2021 at 13:38

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I can't play in the garden usually means 'I am not allowed to', but it could mean 'I am not able to' (for instance, if the child is ill or disabled).

Changing can to could doesn't change that. I wish I could play in the garden could equally well mean I wish I were allowed to.

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