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Yesterday, I had an exam in which this objective type question was asked.

Select the most appropriate option that can substitute the underlined segment in the given sentence.

She wished she __ have__being __ kinder to the poor man.
1. was being
2. have been
3. were being
4. had been

I choose 3 as my option. Many say four is the correct one. I knew that in hypothetical situations we use were + verb + ing. Here the sentence starts with word wish so I decided to use this option.

Like : I wish I were ruling this kingdom. Can somebody tell me my mistake. Should I take this issue with my checker to get scores.

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  • There is some variation in dialects for "were being" (subjunctive). This is now rare in standard UK English, and arguably no longer correct. It is common in US English and some dialects from northern England, e.g. Yorkshire. Oct 6 at 15:39

3 Answers 3

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3 and 4 are both grammatically correct, though 4 is clearly the most natural, so it is the correct answer according to the wording of the question, "the most appropriate option".

4 is correct because it means she wasn't kind enough to the poor man in the past, and now she regrets it. This has a very straightforward meaning.

3 means she currently is not kind enough to the poor man, and wishes that she were kinder now. This doesn't make sense because if she feels bad about what she's doing in the present, then she should just fix it and be kinder. And if there's something preventing her from being kinder, then she should say, "I wish I could be kinder to the poor man". So it has a strange meaning, making 3 less "appropriate" than 4.

Incidentally, answer 1 has the exact same meaning as 3.

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    @ is it worth raising an issue? If I get one mark for this, it might help to get job as it was a objective type competitive exam. Oct 6 at 6:53
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    @SudhirSharma objectively, 4 is most natural and appropriate. That there are some obscure cases were 3 (or even 1) would be correct is not relevant. Try this analogy: "Dogs have ____. 1) scales. 2) gills. 3) fur. 4) glowing skin." The answer is clearly 3, even if someone in a lab once made a dog glow.
    – fectin
    Oct 6 at 14:34
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    @SudhirSharma Sorry to say, but in my opinion, you got the answer wrong, and fighting for it will make you look bad. I think the "almost correct" answers 1 and 3 were included in order to catch people who know that 2 is wrong, but cannot recognize that 4 is better than 1 or 3.
    – gotube
    Oct 6 at 15:38
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    @MikeBrockington there's nothing wrong with (3): "were being" doesn't refer to our present, but her present. It's the distinction between she wished (in the past) about being kinder (in the same past) versus about having been kinder (in the more distant past). Oct 7 at 7:51
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    the use of the past subjunctive progressive in 3 is very old-fashioned these days; the indicative past progressive (1) would be more usual these days
    – Tristan
    Oct 7 at 10:22
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Although option 3 doesn’t have any formal error that would be listed in a textbook, it doesn’t sound natural to my (American English) ear.

First, the progressive mood sounds very unusual here. I would more likely say something like, “I wish I had more kindness for him,” “I wish I could be more charitable,” or following the prompt more closely, “I wish I were kinder to him.” Using I were instead of I was or I had been is enough to mark the verb as present subjunctive.

Also, most native speakers would say, “wished she was” unless we were being very formal. For instance, a Google search of the White House website shows roughly 960 hits for “if he was” versus 129 for “if he were,” and the “if he were” hits were the most serious statements (such as the President saying “if he were here” of his dead son in a Memorial Day address, or threatening consequences against a foreign leader “if he were to invade”).

For whatever reason, “If I were being kind to you,” sounds more natural (but sarcastic) to me than “I wish I were being ....”

“Were being” followed by a past participle is almost always a past passive, such as, “steps were being taken.” I’d speculate that might be how we came to avoid that construction here. In this case, with a singular subject and an adjective that cannot double as a participle, the sentence is unambiguous, but with a different subject and adjective, “were being” would be confusing. For example, “I thought they were being frustrated,” would be ambiguous: it could either be simple past passive (I thought that something was frustrating them in the past) or present progressive subhunctive (I thought counterfactually that they were feeling frustrated now).

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3 and 4 are both grammatically correct, but they don't mean the same thing. Whichever is "most appropriate" depends on information which hasn't been given.

Is she wishing this right now? Then use 3, in present tense subjunctive mood.

Or had she wished this at some point in the past? Then use 4, in past perfect tense.

I think you have a very strong argument you could make to the test scorer.

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    problem is that the "wishing right now" scenario makes no sense. Which is probably why two such answers were included: to determine if the answerer can figure out when a scenario is reasonable (correct answer) or unreasonable.
    – Esther
    Oct 6 at 18:51
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    @Esther I don't agree that it doesn't make sense. Haven't you ever wished you were behaving differently while right in the middle of the behavior you wished were different, and still been unable to change? Fectin in the comments on gotube's answer also sees 3 not just as making sense, but the actual correct answer, so, I'm not the only one.
    – Beanluc
    Oct 6 at 18:56
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    it seems Fectin's comment is a typo, because (4) does make perfect sense. And as gotube says, if you can't in the moment, it makes more sense to say "I wish I could be nicer" than "I wish I were being nicer"
    – Esther
    Oct 6 at 19:07
  • "I wish I could" and "I wish I were" don't mean the same thing though. Both meanings make sense.
    – Beanluc
    Oct 6 at 19:09
  • @Esther Yes, fectin has confirmed it was a typo. It's fixed now
    – gotube
    Oct 7 at 2:59

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