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Having read some threads on another English learners site, I noticed that there was a disagreement as to whether "I wish I won the lottery" is correct or not. Some mention it is perfectly normal and standard (US), while others suggest:

I wish I could win the lottery.

It is not intended to refer to a past, one-off event (so no "had won"), rather than a present wish with a very look likelihood of happening. To me, "I wish I won the lottery" sounds like if the person saying that implies "I do not win the lottery", which sounds a bit weird as a habitual action.

Also, how would you (and why) say this naturally, using "wish"?

2 Answers 2

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I would certainly not say

I wish I won the lottery.

I am not keen on your suggestion

I wish I could win the lottery.

because although grammatical, using "could" makes it seem as though it is something within your control — apart from buying a ticket! There are two ways I might put it:

Using win as a verb

I wish to win the lottery.

Using win as a noun

I wish for a lottery win.

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  • Thanks, then I am puzzled why some claim the first option (I wish I won the lottery) is a perfectly normal usage.
    – John V
    Feb 11, 2019 at 14:58
  • It would be helpful if you included the link to the previous question you mentioned. Feb 11, 2019 at 15:00
  • forum.wordreference.com/threads/… Post #6
    – John V
    Feb 11, 2019 at 15:01
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    As commented in the link, "I wish I won the lottery" is more colloquial than grammatical. Feb 11, 2019 at 15:03
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    I'd go with "I wish I had won" (lamenting my recent loss) or "I wish I would win" (hoping for a future result).
    – Hellion
    Feb 11, 2019 at 15:31
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“I wish I won the lottery” is only slightly ungrammatical if it refers to an event in the past, and could be corrected to:

I wish I’d won the lottery

But is an ungrammatical mixture of tenses if it is meant as an aspiration for the future.

In the latter case I prefer the version with “could” to either of the suggestions in the accepted answer, both of which seem much more unnatural.

My own suggestions? Staying with “wish” for the moment, and keeping the same idea (aspiration for the future) a more vernacular usage might be:

I wish I’d win the lottery

Although this feels ungrammatical. And wish doesn’t seem completely natural either. People might say “I wish I was a millionaire” (although I would say “were”) reflecting a desire to be in a particular state at the present time, but in wishing for something to occur in the future, the vernacular way of expressing this is more likely to avoid “wish” and use an expression like:

If only I could win the lottery!

Mind you, I don’t gamble, myself.

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  • IMO it works with a time phrase in the past "I wish I won the lottery when the prize was large" or "I wish I won the lottery last year" but tense rules are often slightly different in such cases - it's more common to use simple past rather than past perfect when you are explicitly indicating the temporal relationship. (Although some grammarians may still prefer the past perfect even then.)
    – Stuart F
    Apr 19, 2023 at 10:54
  • I disagree, to the extent that is not a usage I am familiar with, grammatical or not. But perhaps it varies with geographical location.
    – David
    Apr 19, 2023 at 15:58

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