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While reading a book, I'm stumbling on a special construct which I didn't seem to have encountered before where author starts her sentences with "Would that...".

Here are several examples:

The water starts the day again, resetting her senses. Would that it were so easy to turn time on and off like this, to start yesterday again such that it would not end in this bizarre new reality.


She clasps her hands on her lap to hide a splat of paint on her shirt. Would that she had changed into nicer clothes before leaving the house this morning.


"You are safe," she tells the kids. "It's going to be all right now." She wants them to believe this. Would that she could also.

Can someone please explain what the above construct means and if that is proper English usage?

Thank you in advance.

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  • What book are these quotes from? – Laurel May 10 '18 at 3:58
  • @Laurel: how is this relevant? Would it not be against this site's policy to mention the name of the book? – Simeon Leyzerzon May 10 '18 at 3:59
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    It's not against the rules because the rules say you need to attribute your sources. Knowing the title also makes it easy for people to find important information about the book (such as place of publication, date, etc.). – Laurel May 10 '18 at 4:03
  • Well, I'd rather abstain from explicitly mentioning the name of the book so as not to create any unnecessary publicity, but it's been published last year by St. Martin's Press in New York by an established american author with several other novels in print. A Google search for the quotes I gave should easily uncover all the missing details for you. Thanks. – Simeon Leyzerzon May 10 '18 at 4:09
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    In all of your sentences "would that" could be replaced by the more common and less formal "if only" - usually to introduce an exclamatory clause. – Shoe May 10 '18 at 6:25
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“Would that” is simply a synonym for “I wish that” or “I regret that.” If you look at the New Oxford American Dictionary definition of would, it says “Expressing a wish or regret.” It also mentions how it is a literary usage of the word “would,” meaning it is correct grammar usage. However, it is not a common use of the word “would,” so it is difficult grammatical construct to understand.

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