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It doesn't seem to fit the general templates of English sentences I know. Is this an incomplete sentence? Or is it a shortening of an older phrase now no longer used? What are the subject and the object here?

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    It's simply a conversational deletion: "[I] would that it were [so]", using the now archaic sense of would for wish (stemming from will, as in "if I had my way", "if I had the power to make it so"). We omit common words all the time, knowing our interlocutor will understand what has been elided. – Dan Bron Oct 2 '15 at 14:32
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    That's its origin, but now it's a fixed phrase, idiomatic and archaic, like most of the uses of the English "subjunctive". You're right, it doesn't fit the general templates of English sentences. Idioms don't. – John Lawler Oct 2 '15 at 14:48
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    We now use "I wish" in place of "would". That's it. – user140086 Oct 2 '15 at 15:13
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    @biziclop Both "I'd rather you didn't" and "I would that it were" are examples of the subjunctive in English (though there's considerable debate in the more rarified linguistic circles about what, if anything, can or should be labelled subjunctive in English). It was much more common a century ago; its use has and is continuing to fade. The specific motivation for its use in the idiom "would that it were" is that it ain't: you're expressing a counterfactual. – Dan Bron Oct 2 '15 at 15:37
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    @biziclop Nice to know you :) – user140086 Oct 2 '15 at 15:51
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Would is "archaic" which means old and no longer used. People use "I wish" in place of "(I) would".

I wish I were more handsome. I would I were more handsome. (archaic)

It is well explained in Merriam-Webster. Please click here.

a archaic: wished, desired

b archaic: wish for : want

c (1): strongly desire : wish —often used without a subject and with that in a past or conditional construction

(2)—used in auxiliary function with rather or sooner to express preference 
  • Correct me if I am wrong, but is not the usual phrase "I would that I ...," not "I would I ...." – Jascol Dec 2 '15 at 13:27
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    @Jascol: They're related by the grammatical process of "that deletion", and they're both used reasonably often. See Ngram. – Peter Shor Jan 2 '16 at 14:28
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    "were" instead of "was" needs some explanation too. – Lembik Nov 1 '17 at 10:10
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    @Lembik Yes, English counterfactual conditionals are expressed with the past subjunctive, hence the use of "were" regardless of person. – biziclop Mar 8 '18 at 20:27

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