Which is correct "I wished I was a painter" or "I wished I were a painter"?

I've seen in several places that "I wish I were a painter" and "I wish I was a painter" are both correct (e.g. Which one is correct: "wish I was here" or "wish I were here"?), but I have not been able to find a solid answer to past tense "wished".

  • You will never get the answer you want because it does not and cannot exist: language is not mathematical law. Different people say different things at different times to convey not just different things but the same thing. There is no right or wrong possible here, only peeving. All of I wish/wished she was/were/had been/would be here occur in the wild, and I wish you would please accept that and move on.
    – tchrist
    May 3 '15 at 0:54
  • 1
    Both of them are perfectly normal American English, where I wish I Verb+Past has become I wished I Verb, with or without an extra Past in the complement clause. May 3 '15 at 1:59

Okay, there are two things on your mind. One is the subjunctive and the other is the past tense of the first verb.

Whatever you read about "wish I was here" vs. "wish I were here" is probably fine to apply to this slightly different case. It's not really very different.

My answer to the was/were question is that strictly speaking, "were" is better than "was"; but I'm in the minority. Not many people use "were."

Here's a context for the "wished" version:

As a young man, I spent several years undecided about my life's work. I earned my bread as a bored minion in a legal firm. My work left me plenty of time for daydreaming. Some days, I wished I were a painter. Others, I coveted my boss's corner office with a window, and imagined myself working my way up the corporate ladder and being offered the operations manager position.

"Wished" + the subjunctive work here because we're describing wishful, wistful, unrealistic feelings experienced in the past.


This would be the case if you were changing the sentence "I wish I was/were a painter" into the Indirect Speech according to which you would need to turn the introductory verb "wish" into the simple past in order to adhere to the norms of reporting a past statement in the present.
For example (retrieved from grammaring.com):

Mike: I wish I was a year older; then I could enter the race.

Mike wished he was a year older, so he could enter the race. (he is not older)

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