I was watching an episode of the Arrow TV series and I came across the following sentence:

Tommy (to Oliver): I wish you would have died on that island.

I know Americans tend to use constructions like: "If I would have gone there, I would have lost." etc., and there is literature on that, but what is your take on the sentences bellow?

I wish you would have died there.

I wish you had died there.

I cannot find anything on the first structure with wish. Besides grammatical correctness, is there any difference in meaning? There's only this info about the structure, but there is no legitimate source provided:

Could it be that, when looked at in isolation, they have the same meaning, or similar meanings, but a speaker might prefer to use one version over the other depending on the context or situation?

It seems that the first version (with "would") might sometimes be preferred by a speaker when they wish to be polite. For instance, when talking to their boss or to their own friends.

A speaker might prefer to use the second version when they want to be blunt. For instance, when you are reprimanding someone because they should have known better than to have not told you.

When a speaker wants to be polite, they'll often use versions that have more past-tense verb forms in them than would be necessary, and have more words with modality in them (e.g. "might", "perhaps", "could", "would"), and are longer in sentence length and wordier.

When a speaker intentionally wants to communicate bluntness, usually the shorter versions (less wordy) are preferred.

Compare the following:

"You should have told me that"
"I wish you had told me that"
"I wish you would have told me that"

It seems that #1 could be the most blunt of the three, and that #3 could be the least blunt.

As to the grammaticality of "I wish you would have told me that", usually the grammaticality of a sentence depends on: whether or not native English speakers would intentionally say something like that in a normal context and expect (all) other native English speakers to fully understand them, and that other native English speakers do understand them. Roughly that's the meaning of an utterance being grammatical in today's standard English.

Now, as to that specific utterance of yours that is in the title of your post, I can accept that many native English speakers will speak that intentionally, and that many of those speakers would be considered to be well-educated and good speakers of English by many fellow native English speakers. And it also sounds okay to my ear. And so, it seems to be grammatical to me.

And since you "hear people say things like this quite often", that is more supporting evidence for its grammaticality.

Aside: On a school test, the teacher probably wants to see the last version ("I wish you had told me that") as the answer.

Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/grammar/comments/3q6xnr/is_it_ungrammatical_to_say_i_wish_you_would_have/

Excess wordiness adds to politeness?

My questions are: Is there any difference in meaning? And if so, could you please provide a reputable source to back up your claims, too?

  • The difference in meaning is very subtle: one tells the listener "I know how to speak English properly" and the other "I'm uneducated and quite happy to participate in the unnecessary degradation of English".
    – ralph.m
    Dec 5, 2015 at 21:49
  • 2
    @ralph.m Perhaps you could add an authority showing that only one is acceptable. Dec 5, 2015 at 21:55
  • 2
    @Edwin Ashworth—Well, to me that's like asking for some authority that murder is really wrong, but o well. There are tons of online grammar references that try to kick this ugly usage out the door. Here's one, grabbed at random: data.grammarbook.com/blog/verbs/if-i-would-have-vs-if-i-had
    – ralph.m
    Dec 5, 2015 at 22:05
  • The justification quoted above that "you hear it often, so it's OK" makes my blood boil. That would make "if I had of" and "if I would of" legitimate English too. We are doomed. :p
    – ralph.m
    Dec 5, 2015 at 22:08
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    @Edwin: Yes, Shoe's answer there is excellent (and even-handed). Personally, I find the full would form really "clunky" in this context, even though I know it's (historically, grammatically) "correct", but I don't bat an eyelid if the 'd ends up getting expanded into had for emphasis: Okay, I didn't bake a cake. But that's only because I didn't know you were coming. If I had have known you were coming, of course I'd have baked a cake. I don't care how many people insist I shouldn't include have after had there - grammar notwithstanding, it sounds fine to my ear. Dec 5, 2015 at 22:49

2 Answers 2



This pattern expresses a wish about the future, for example a wish for a change in someone's behaviour, or a wish for something to happen. It can express a rather abrupt request or complaint.

"I wish people wouldn't leave this door open."

"I wish Simon would reply to my letter."

"I wish you wouldn't smoke."

Wish - past tense/could

This pattern expresses a wish for something in the present to be different, for example the amount of spare time I have.

We cannot use "would" here.

NOT I wish I would have more spare time.

"I wish I had more spare time."

"Bob wishes he knew what was going on."

"I wish I could ski."

Wish -past perfect/could have

This pattern expresses a wish about the past.

We cannot use "would have".

NOT I wish you would have told me.

"I wish I had never bought this toaster. It's always going wrong."

"I wish you had told me you had a spare ticket for the show."

"Angela wishes she could have gone to the party, but she was away."

  • I thought it's nothing new for American English to use 'would' in if-clauses. The subordinate clause after the verb, wish, is also a condition that the speaker should have been pleased with. I've read somewhere, maybe Wikipedia, that recently the uses of 'would' in if-clauses are accepted as more than non-standard American spoken language, and that the 'would' is to attenuate the expression. I like the idea. Isn't it just a style, like the British English putative 'should'?
    – karlalou
    Jun 6, 2018 at 23:21
  • "Such use of would is widespread especially in spoken American English in all sectors of society. It is not usually found in more formal writing; however some sources (ex. Longman) describe it as acceptable US English, no longer labeling it colloquial. (Wikipedia | English Conditional Sentences | Use of Will and Would in Conditional Clauses)
    – karlalou
    Jun 7, 2018 at 0:59
  • "In informal speech, sentences like I wish you'd have seen it sometimes occur." (M. Swan, Practical English Usage, 630.4) "This is frequently considered incorrect, but happens quite often in educated people's speech. It is not normally written. If I'd have known, I'd have told you." (Ditto, 262.2)
    – karlalou
    Jun 7, 2018 at 6:34
  • Why do you say 'would' when you say "I would appreciate it if you ..."? If it's not for attenuation, I think you should say "I will appreciate it ...".
    – karlalou
    Jun 9, 2018 at 17:01
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    You say I would appreciate it if... because it's part of the second conditional, i.e. "I would appreciate it if you didn't tell Samantha about this". If you use will, then it's a first conditional, and it just doesn't fit this construction- nobody would say I'll appreciate it if you don't tell Samantha about this.
    – Daniel
    Jan 25, 2019 at 20:37

This usage of had is clearly a case of the subjunctive mood, which unfortunately many modern English speakers are not well educated on. There is nothing wrong with using a subjunctive construction such as I wish you had died there. For example, I wish I were there at the time is subjunctive while I wish I would have been there at the time is conditional. The conditional is better known, presumably for its being simpler to comprehend.

  • I think you misunderstood which construction is being called uneducated. (ralph.m was criticizing the use of the form with "would have," not the form with "had.")
    – herisson
    Dec 5, 2015 at 23:21
  • In that case, I apologise. It was not clear to me which example was being referred to. I have updated my answer accordingly.
    – Michael
    Dec 5, 2015 at 23:27

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