English Daily Workout: The Subjunctive Mood: Wishes

The Subjunctive Mood: Wishes






4. Wishes


The past tenses of the Subjunctive, and the auxiliary would, are used in the subordinate clauses of sentences which use the verb to wish in the main clause. In the following examples, the verb to wish is printed in bold type, and the verbs in the subordinate clauses are underlined.
e.g. He wishes that he were rich.
      They wish that they had studied harder when they were young.
      She wishes that you would come to the meeting tomorrow.

It should be noted that the word that can be omitted from a sentence which uses the verb to wish in the main clause.
e.g. He wishes he were rich.
      They wish they had studied harder when they were young.
      She wishes you would come to the meeting tomorrow.

The form of the verb used in the subordinate clause of a wish is independent of the tense of the verb in the main clause. As explained below, the form of the verb used in the subordinate clause of a wish is determined by whether the time of the action referred to in the subordinate clause is earlier than, the same as, or later than the time of the action referred to in the main clause.

a. An earlier time
When the subordinate clause refers to an earlier time than the main clause, the Past Perfect Subjunctive is usually used in the subordinate clause. In the following examples, the verbs in the Past Perfect Subjunctive are underlined.
e.g. We wished he had spoken to us.
      I wish you had called earlier.
      They will wish they had listened to us sooner.

In the case of a continuous, ongoing action, the Past Perfect Continuous Subjunctive may be used instead of the Past Perfect Subjunctive. In the following example, the verb in the Past Perfect Continuous Subjunctive is underlined.
e.g. She wishes she had been staying with us last week.

In each of these examples, the use of the Past Perfect Subjunctive or the Past Perfect Continuous Subjunctive indicates that the subordinate clause refers to an earlier time than the main clause.



b. The same time
When the subordinate clause refers to the same time as the main clause, the Simple Past Subjunctive is usually used in the subordinate clause. In the following examples, the verbs in the Simple Past Subjunctive are underlined.
e.g. When she was at the party, she wished she were at home.
      Now that he is in China, he wishes he understood Chinese.
      When we begin the trip, they will wish they were with us.

In the case of a continuous, ongoing action, the Past Continuous Subjunctive may be used instead of the Simple Past Subjunctive. In the following example, the verb in the Past Continuous Subjunctive is underlined.
e.g. They wish they were traveling now.

In each of these examples, the use of the Simple Past Subjunctive or the Past Continuous Subjunctive indicates that the subordinate clause refers to the same time as the main clause.



c. A later time
When the subordinate clause refers to a later time than the main clause, the Simple conjugation with the auxiliary would is usually used in the subordinate clause. In the following examples, the verbs in the Simple conjugation with would are underlined.
e.g. You wished she would arrive the next day.
      I wish she would change her mind.
      He will wish we would join him the following week.

In each of these examples, the use of the Simple conjugation with would indicates that the subordinate clause refers to a later time than the main clause.



d. Summary
The following table summarizes the verb forms most often used in the subordinate clauses of sentences expressing wishes.

Time Referred to in Subordinate Clause 
Compared to Time Referred to in Main ClauseForm of Verb Used in Subordinate Clause
  Earlier                                                                                      Past Perfect Subjunctive or
    Past Perfect Continuous Subjunctive
    e.g. I wish it had snowed yesterday.
  Same  Simple Past Subjunctive or
    Past Continuous Subjunctive
    e.g. I wish it were snowing now.
  Later  Simple conjugation with would
    e.g. I wish it would snow tomorrow.



e. Use of the auxiliary Could in expressing wishes
It should be noted that the modal auxiliary could, which will be discussed further in the next chapter, can also be used in the subordinate clause of a sentence expressing a wish. The auxiliary could forms conjugations in the same way as the auxiliary would.
e.g. I wish I could help you tomorrow.
      I wish I could help you now.

As illustrated in the preceding examples, the Simple conjugation with could may be used when the time referred to in the subordinate clause is later than, or the same as, the time referred to in the main clause.

As illustrated in the following example, the Perfect conjugation with could may be used when the time referred to in the subordinate clause is earlier than the time referred to in the main clause.
e.g. I wish I could have helped you yesterday.