I do know that the much better construction is "he wished he had met her a year before", but is the construction "he wished he would have met her a year before" acceptable?

  • It doesn't make any sense to me. – Kate Bunting Jul 19 '19 at 14:45
  • 1
    It's a modal construction and therefore idiomatic. In American English saying counterfactual would have met instead of had met after wish is very common, though deprecated as overformal. – John Lawler Jul 19 '19 at 15:20
  • @KateBunting Can’t a person wish they would meet someone new? How else are you expected to say that then? “I wish I _____(meet)_____ someone new.” Note that I wish is in the present tense here. – tchrist Jul 19 '19 at 17:10
  • @tchrist In BrE, "I wish I would meet someone new" exudes exasperation. Merely wanting to meet someone new would be more likely to use could. – Andrew Leach Jul 19 '19 at 19:03
  • @tchrist Yes, of course you can say 'he wished he would meet...', but 'he wished he would have met' is decidedly odd to me. I would say 'He wished he could have met her a year before'. – Kate Bunting Jul 20 '19 at 7:57

Would have instead of had in a unreal conditional/subjunctive is found in informal spoken American English and in printed or digital sources close to it.

Did Albert Einstein really say he wished he would have “studied the Talmud?” — Quora question.

In numerous talks with his wife, the subject of school kept coming up, and many times he found himself mentioning that he wished he would have gone into medicine. — Beacon Health System (IN).

Jack listened to the message, only to find it was his credit card company letting him know of suspicious charges. He wished he would have answered. But how was he supposed to know that was a call he should have answered? — A Better Credit Fraud Alert Experience, Neuster.com

While one grammar source condemns this periphrastic usage as a error, I think it’s more a question of register: acceptable in most informal speech and writing, but not in more formal registers. I suspect the usage arose in analogy to should have, as in this example, and could have.

  • 1
    I disagree that it is acceptable in informal speech. No native British English speaker in my experience would ever say that, and the essence of informal speech is simplification, not complication. I worked in an international laboratory for a year where the standard of speech of non-English native speakers was very high (all conversation and scientific publication was in English). This was one of the three common mistakes that I observed people at that level make at seminars. (Another was of the type "since three years we have been…", the third I forget for the moment.) – David Jul 19 '19 at 16:55
  • 1
    @David: Thank you for your opinion. It's fairly common in spoken American, and I could have documented far more examples. I'll qualify my answer. The bit with since is a nonidiomatic error, qualitatively different from this. – KarlG Jul 19 '19 at 16:59
  • 2
    @David: this answer is talking about American English. Did you read the first sentence? And I think it's become much more common in the last 40 years. – Peter Shor Jul 19 '19 at 17:09
  • 1
    I really wish @David would answer my question to him. – tchrist Jul 19 '19 at 17:14
  • 1
    @KarlG Oh I know. I'm trying to lead him by the horns to see how untenable a conclusion he's staked out for himself. Once you admit that present I wish takes a would + infinitive, then you make them tell you how to backshift the would + infinitive when you change the main verb into past tense. You have to use a modal perfect. That's why this all works this way, and why it is grammatical. – tchrist Jul 19 '19 at 17:18

In British English this is not acceptable in any register although the meaning is clear.

It has specific overtones, namely it suggests the speaker is a native speaker of a language where this use of the conditional in the dependent clause is normal.

Although not true British English, there is a caveat: certain minorities may be comfortable using the conditional like this, and in particular Jewish communities, where some grammatical patterns seem to be influenced by German/Yiddish.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.