Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was teaching first and second conditionals to an intermediate English class the other day, and then we started with 'wish' statements.

We talked about famous people and their wishes. For example: 'Barack Obama wishes the USA didn't have such a high unemployment rate.'

And then we continued with the lesson and I introduced 'wish' statements with would. My example was 'I wish my daughter would do better at school'.

Then a student asked me what the difference between 'I wish' with 'did' or 'didn't' and 'I wish' with 'would' or 'wouldn't' was.

I said the difference was tense, if I say 'Barack Obama wishes the USA didn't have such a high unemployment rate', it's present tense.

If I say 'Barack Obama wishes the USA wouldn't have such a high unemployment rate.' It's incorrect, I think it would be better if I said : 'Barack Obama wishes the unemployment rate would improve in the USA.' , future tense.

And with the daughter example,'I wish my daughter would do better at school.', means that I hope she will improve in the future, and when I say 'I wish my daughter did better at school.' does that mean right now she is doing badly, and I want it to change today? Or does it mean that I don't think it will change?

share|improve this question
1  
The meaning is extremely similar. In my opinion, the distinction is only worth worrying about if you are aspiring to be a professional writer. Also, I think you'll find that the form with "would" is slightly more common in USA than it is in UK; that is, British people's preference for "did" is stronger than that of Americans. –  user16269 Apr 12 '12 at 9:08
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

'Barack Obama wishes the USA didn't have such a high unemployment rate'.

This sentence expresses regret on the part or Barack Obama. In other words he feels sorry things are the way they are.

'Barack Obama wishes the USA wouldn't have such a high unemployment rate.'

This construct expresses irritation on the part of Barack Obama because the unemployment rate "is unwilling" or "refuses" to become lower. The sentence does sound strange because, at least theoretically, Obama is someone who can do something about the situation. Similarly, the sentence 'Barack Obama wishes the unemployment rate would improve in the USA' sounds strange to my ears.

'I wish my daughter did better at school.'

In this sentence I mean that I'm sorry my daughter isn't doing better at school. It shows that, at least for the time being, I don't believe the situation will change. I don't say who is to blame for this situation.

'I wish my daughter would do better at school.'

Here I am expressing my dissatisfaction and probably my impatience or irritation because I believe it's my daughter's unwillingness to do better at school which is responsible for the situation. I believe things can change if her will changes.

In other words, would after wish refers to other people's unwillingness to do or not do something and that irritates the speaker. Sometimes we can talk about a situation like this. For example you can say "I wish it would stop raining", but only because you have no control over the weather and you speak as if the weather has a will of its own.

share|improve this answer
add comment

'I wish my daughter would do better at school' expresses a hope. 'I wish my daughter did better at school' doesn’t.

share|improve this answer
2  
Yes. A similar difference can be seen between: I wish you wouldn't smoke (= I would like you to stop smoking) and I wish you didn't smoke (= It annoys or worries me that you smoke), although of course the second sentence implies the first, and so the difference is very subtle. –  Shoe Apr 12 '12 at 8:53
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.