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I remembered that I learned this 20 years ago, but now couldn't find any information relating to it even searching the entire internet.

Ok, Here is how to use Wish (source)

Wish + (that) + past simple: We can use 'wish' to talk about something that we would like to be different in the present or the future. It's used for things which are impossible or very unlikely.

Ex: I wish that I had a big house (I don't have a big house, but it's a nice idea!).

Ex: I wish that I could speak Spanish (but, unfortunately, I can't speak Spanish)

Wish + (that) + would: On the other hand, we use 'would' with 'wish' in a little bit of a special way. It's generally used about other people who are doing (or not doing) something that we don't like and we want that person to change. It's not usually used about ourselves, or about something which nobody can change though, exceptionally, we do use it about the weather.

Ex: I wish that John wouldn't eat all the chocolate. (John does usually eat all the chocolate and I don't like it. I want him to change his behaviour!)

Ex: I wish that the neighbours would be quiet! (They are not quiet and I don't like the noise.)

Wish + (that) + past perfect: We can use 'wish' with the past perfect to talk about regrets from the past. These are things that have already happened but we wish they'd happened in a different way. This use of 'wish' is very similar to the third conditional.

Ex: I wish that I had studied harder at school. (I didn't study hard at school, and now I'm sorry about it.)

Ex: I wish that I hadn't eaten so much yesterday! (But I did eat a lot yesterday. Now I think it wasn't a good idea.)

Now, we got 6 above sentences that use "wish" in simple present tense, then the question is that how to change the verb form if "wish" in simple past?

Ex: I wish that I had a big house (I don't have a big house, but it's a nice idea!). --->I wished that I had had a big house

Ex: I wish that I could speak Spanish (but, unfortunately, I can't speak Spanish) --->I wished that I could have spoken Spanish

Ex: I wish that John wouldn't eat all the chocolate. (John does usually eat all the chocolate and I don't like it. I want him to change his behaviour!) --->I wished that John wouldn't have eaten all the chocolate.

Ex: I wish that the neighbours would be quiet! (They are not quiet and I don't like the noise.) --->*I wished that the neighbours would have been quiet!"

Ex: I wish that I had studied harder at school. (I didn't study hard at school, and now I'm sorry about it.) --->I wished that I had studied harder at school

Ex: I wish that I hadn't eaten so much yesterday! (But I did eat a lot yesterday. Now I think it wasn't a good idea.) --->I wished that I hadn't eaten so much yesterday

This is what I think:

if the verb in main clause is simple past--> change to past perfect"

if the verb in main clause is "would do" --->change to "would have done"

but if the verb "in main clause is past perfect, then don't need to change because there is no tense far further back after past perfect.

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    You don't have to do anything to the "second" verb, just change wish to wished and you have a grammatical sentence. – Jim Mar 27 '16 at 3:22
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    I wish it were that easy. – tchrist Mar 27 '16 at 3:30
  • @tchrist- good point, but for OP's six examples, it is. – Jim Mar 27 '16 at 3:59
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    @Tom- it all depends on what you're trying to say. If, currently, you are saying, "I wish that the neighbors would be quiet!" then tomorrow you could say, "Last night, I wished that the neighbors would be quiet." Of course you could also say, "Last night, I wished that the neighbors would have been quiet." or "I wished that the neighbors had been quiet" – Jim Mar 27 '16 at 4:16
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    @tchrist I wished it were that easy, then I realised that it is. – Max Williams May 26 '16 at 8:17
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Normally you don't say such sentences with "wished". Actually, I think, it should be wished* (past subjunctive) in the sense of would wish. But as in English this form is ambiguous - you can speak of a past event or of something hypothetical - English simplified wished* to wish. With past subjunctive it is still clear that you speak of something hypothetical.

Actually, the form wish (when followed by past subjunctive) is an anomaly. But English grammars are not able to make this clear. Their explanations are very imprecise and vague. The typical explanation is: wish can be followed by past tense to speak of a hypothetical wish. No mention that this "wish" is an anomaly and that past is past subjunctive. That is grammar of poor quality or simply sloppy grammar that doesn't give a clear understanding of what things really are.

You find sentences of the type

  • I wish father were* here. - With were*, genuine past subjunctive. Literary.

  • I wish I was* dead. - With was* as substitute for were*. Used normally.

  • I wish I would* know it. - Simpler than "I knew*".

  • I wish I could* help you.

The asterisk is my optical sign for subjunctive form or in the case of was* (looks like past indicative) a hint that this form is meant as subjunctive.

  • so how do you use "wish" in everyday conversation? – Tom Mar 27 '16 at 4:27
  • Normally it is I wish I was dead. "were*" is already a literary form. – rogermue Mar 27 '16 at 7:41
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    @rogermue No, this is one of the shrinking number of places where the subjunctive is still alive and fairly well. Go here: zazzle.com/… – deadrat Mar 27 '16 at 8:24
  • @rogermue: subjunctive is alive and well here in Australia. "I wish I were dead" is common usage amongst better educated speakers (though perhaps reflecting their horror at the increasing adoption of American usage). Similarly "I'd stop that if I were you." "The proposal is that the subjunctive be saved." Etc. – Chappo Mar 28 '16 at 4:02
  • @Chappo To be fair, Americans use the subjunctive there too ; it's those in the Mother Country who use it less, but they do use it in the first phrase you gave, not necessarily the second in informal speech. – Deonyi Apr 26 '16 at 13:00

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