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For example:

  1. I wish I will be an Engineer.
  2. I wish to be an Engineer.

is there any difference between the two sentences?

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  • 1
    Yes, the first isn't idiomatic.
    – deadrat
    Mar 6, 2016 at 10:12
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    – user140086
    Mar 6, 2016 at 10:31
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    – user140086
    Mar 6, 2016 at 10:32
  • @deadrat Uhuh, but why?! Mar 6, 2016 at 10:44
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    @Araucaria The OP didn't ask why but whether. In any case, I'm pretty sure Ranthony has driven him off. (Verbs of possibility, speculation, hope, etc. need the aspect of uncertainty or noncertainty in the verb of the following clause.)
    – deadrat
    Mar 6, 2016 at 10:52

1 Answer 1

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The meaning of the verb WISH changes according to what type of Complement it takes. When the verb WISH is used with a finite content clause , the meaning is counterfactual. We do not expect the thing described in the subordinate clause to happen:

  • I wish I was taller.
  • I wish I was a millionaire.
  • I wish I was Einstein.

Notice that when we use a full finite clause after wish the tense is backshifted. The examples above, for instance, use the past simple was even though they are talking about the present. Notice that we cannot usually use will in these clause, we need a past tense form.

When we use the verb wish as a near synonym of want or hope, then we cannot use a finite clause afterwards. We need to use an infinitival clause:

  • I wish to leave.
  • I wish to be an engineer.
  • I wish to be left in peace.

The use of wish in this type of sentence is relatively rare when compared to its use in the sentences further above; the other uses are far more frequent. When they are used, these sentences using wish are often used as a form of request, as opposed to as just a description of our mental state. They are quite formal in register.

If we use the verb wish with a Direct and Indirect Object, we also present the thing that is wished for as an actual possibility:

  • I wish you a merry Christmas.
  • I wish you good luck.
  • I wish them wealth and happiness.
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  • For what it's worth, I would use the past subjunctive (or whatever you want to call it): I wish I were taller.
    – Anonym
    Mar 6, 2016 at 11:19
  • @Anonym Yes, that's quite right. anywhere you can use a modally backshifted preterite , you can also use the 'subjunctive' too :-) (I've tried to keep it simple for the OP!) Mar 6, 2016 at 11:21
  • Most authorities would consider it wrong if you didn't use subjunctive "were," rather that "was," which, although often heard, is considered substandard. Mar 6, 2016 at 14:40
  • @StevenLittman They would be wrong, though. The best most expert writers in English have consistently used both. There's nothing in the study of the language to suggest that were is in any way "better" apart from bogus prejudice. It's also not the case that most grammar authorities would say so. It's a, thankfully small minority. Mar 6, 2016 at 20:27
  • @Araucaria--Both the NY Times Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style say to use "I wish I were..." A quick look on the Net shows surprisingly more support for your position than I expected there to be, and maybe it's old-fashioned, but I'm sticking to my guns here. "I wish I was..." really grates on my nerves. The CMOS calls it "colloquial." I say, don't put it in your term paper. Your professor just might agree with the Times, the CMOS, and me. Mar 7, 2016 at 2:02

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