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In this sentence, "I still wished I could have done more", why isn't it saying, "I still wished I could do more"?

Beauty and the Beast season 2 episode 16: http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=beauty-and-the-beast-2012&episode=s02e16

You okay? Yeah. [sic]

I don't know, it's a little bittersweet, though.

Yes, we finally stopped Sam, but, I don't know, it feels a little hollow, don't you think? We broke up their secret society.

Just take a little bit of digging.

We can put them away for a long time.

Yeah, I still wished I could have done more, though.

That's the old you talking.

The one that used to take the law into his own hands.

I like the new you better.

Oh, you do, do you? Six years is a long time to hold onto all that pain and anger.

Can't even imagine.

I can.

I know the difference in meaning between 'could' and 'could have', but here, I can't seem to get the grammar.

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marked as duplicate by tchrist, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, Mitch, medica, Josh61 Jun 16 at 12:24

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It really depends on the full context. So "I still wished I could have done more, but there wasn't time" and "I still wished I could do more, so I continued working" both seem perfectly reasonable to me. –  FumbleFingers Jun 14 at 19:47
    
Can we all assume that the context is something like: Character A says, "I still wished I could have done more." -- that is, your example was from dialogue. –  F.E. Jun 14 at 19:47
    
If this was from dialogue, then I suspect the character said or meant to say this: "I still wish I could have done more." –  F.E. Jun 14 at 19:50
    
But if it was narrative (in a book) that was written in past-tense narrative fiction, then that's a different type of situation. And here, the text could be showing the narrator's current thoughts, via the prose: I still wished I could have done more. –  F.E. Jun 14 at 19:55
    
Looking at the sentence in its context (the dialogue), I think the character had mis-spoken (or transcription is bad), and that he meant to say: "Yeah, I still wish I could have done more, though." In that case, for the content clause, it happens that one past-tense is needed for modal remoteness (due to "wish" as the matrix clause), and one past-tense is used to place its situation into the past time. Thus the "could", and the perfect construction--together they provide the 2 past-tenses needed. The character is now wishing that he could have done something differently in the past. –  F.E. Jun 14 at 20:30

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I take it the character is speaking of something which happened in the past and ended in the past. Simplifying without changing the essential meaning:

I wished I had done more...

This is the past perfect. It describes a completed action before something in the past. I don't know about the show or the characters, but this is something that bothered him in the past. But it's over. He can't do anything anymore.

I still wished I could do more...

is a bit confusing. Do more implies the present, and the ability still exists to act differently. Why would he use the past (wished) for something he could still potentially do?

I still wished I could have done more for her before she was taken away, but I was young and powerless.

All the events are located in the past.

I still wish I could do more for her. She deserves my help. But she's too far away now.

These events are continuing in the present.

Edited to add: In light of F.E.'s expansion of the quoted script, I agree with him that the best word, in context, is wish. There is at least one other grammatical mistake in that script ("Just take a little bit of digging").

However, I don't necessarily agree that "still" implied that "wish" should be used.

E.G.: "When I was in school, I wished I could be popular. I wasn't. When I went to college, I sill wished I would be popular. But I wasn't. Then, when I founded (whatever internet company) and became rich, I realized being popular isn't so special.

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But medica how could "I still wished I could do more..." refers to something that still exists? Aren't we using simple past for whole of the sentence? –  Arrowfar Jun 14 at 19:43
    
In many circumstances, that works. For example, say a blind who now no longer desperately wishes to see might say, "I wished to see the sky, to see the oceans, to see..." But in your case, it's not the right use. –  medica Jun 14 at 19:51
    
If this was from dialogue, then I suspect the character said or meant to say this: "I still wish I could have done more." -- as the word "still" sorta contradicts the use of the past-tense "wished". (But if it was narrative (in a book) that was written in past-tense narrative fiction, then that's a different type of situation. -- but hopefully that isn't the situation here.) –  F.E. Jun 14 at 19:53
    
@F.E. - I agree, and had this impression as well at first. But given the supernatural aspect of this show, for all I know, the guy is now a vampire, and doesn't wish that anymore. The following line in the dialogue is, "But that was the old you..." (just from googling, not reading the script), so I went with my second impression. –  medica Jun 14 at 20:01
    
@medica - Ma'am can you analyse "wish" part in your answer like F.E. said as it is not clear in your answer. Thanks in advance. –  Arrowfar Jun 14 at 21:26

The moment when the person has done the wishing is in the past. Consequently, the second phrase needs to agree in this respect. To illustrate:

  • I still wished (then) I could have done more (then), vs.
  • I still wished (then) I could do more (now).
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