You don't own a motorbike and you need one. You say:________________________ (own).

(a)I wish I owned a motorbike.

(b)I wish I could own a motorbike.

This is one of the questions in the test I gave my students. For the item that require the use of can, the word can is given in the parenthesis, e.g. (can/go). For this item, the correct answer is owned, but a few students used could own. It sounds unnatural to me, but I'm not sure if I should give it a mark.

  • The second means either of "I wish I were able to own a bike" or "I wish I were allowed to own a bike". – tchrist Jan 23 at 5:44
  • 2
    Both are correct. – Ram Pillai Jan 23 at 13:50

To me, "could own" means something different from "owned": (a) means that I don't own a motorbike, and I wish things were otherwise. (b), on the other hand, implies not just (a), but also that there's something blocking me from owning a motorbike, such as a law or city ordinance.

However, (a) I wish I owned a motorbike. (c) I wish I could have a motorbike. sound nearly-synonymous to me.

|improve this answer|||||

The "I wish" structure usually demands that the following verb be/is put in the conditional mode in many languages, including in English. In English a past tense modal verb like "could" is used. Here is the explanation.

Past tense modals would and could are used about wishes for the future:

  • I don't like my work. I wish I could get a better job.
  • That's a dreadful noise. I wish it would stop.
  • I always have to get home early. If only my parents would let me stay out later.

Past simple and continuous are used to talk about wishes for the present.

  • I don't like this place. I wish I lived somewhere more interesting.

So, let's compare using the first example. I could say:

  • I don't like my work. I wish I had/got a better job.


  • I don't like my work. I wish I could get a better job.

In the first example, the person does not give the impression that it could happen, that it can be possible that he or she could get a better job.

Still, the question has this: "You don't own a motorbike and you need one. " This would tilt the next sentence to use the "could" because there is a desire or a need to need one.


|improve this answer|||||

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.