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On TV, a physicist is talking about space, planets, etc. He tells about anything related to space in a very loving way. So, when it comes to whether there will be a civilization in space, the physicist says something like We don't know. Maybe none, maybe one (He says it in a sad tone of voice.) Space and life in space (see 14:49--15:53)

And then the presenter: "Do you want there to be?

Physicist: I would love there to be. And actually because it worries me.

The structure of these sentences has drawn my attention. When we imagine something which is the opposite of a current situation, we use past form. For instance if I have green eyes and want to have brown eyes "I wish I had brown eyes."

So, on the TV show, the question is about something against the current fact - the fact being there is no civilization in space. So I would have expected a structure like this:

"Do you want there was?" or "I would love there was."

Would these be just not idiomatic?

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    Those last two would just not be idiomatic. See placement of just.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 21:39

3 Answers 3

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No,"Do you want there was?" and "I would love there was" are not idiomatic, though you could say "Do you wish there was?"

However, the 'current fact' is that we don't know whether there are other civilisations in space; apparently scientists have found evidence that there may at least be life elsewhere in the universe. So "Do you want there to be" refers to something which, as you quote the physicist as saying, may or may not be true.

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  • Edited as suggested. Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 16:43
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The verbs "want" and "would like/love" take either a noun phrase object, or a phrase including an infinitive phrase.

I want a long vacation. (noun phrase)
I would like to go on vacation. (infinitive phrase)
I would love for there to be civilization in space. (phrase including an infinitive phrase)

Your suggestion of "Do you want there was" is bad grammar because "there was" is a conjugated clause, and "want" doesn't take conjugated clauses.

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  • I want there to be another X. is none of those examples.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 21:43
  • @Lambie It's the third one because it has an infinitive phrase in it
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 6:26
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SAMPLE

"On TV, a physicist is talking about space, planets, etc. He tells about anything related to space in a very loving way. So, when it comes to whether there will be a civilization in space, the physicist says something like We don't know. Maybe none, maybe one. And then the presenter: "Do you want there to be?"

There is or isn't a civilization in space. Presenter/interviewer: "Do you want there to be?" [see preceding reference: a civilization in space]

Physicist: "I would love there to be." [a civilization in space]. And actually because it worries me.

This is not: I would love it if there was/were a civilization in space. It is the scientist addressing something factual. That would be a conditional.

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