SFX Magazine had declared the sentence below as follow: 1) STAR TURN, 2) BEST LINES.

  • I wish Bernard Cribbins was my grandad. Perhaps he would be willing to adopt?

  • Rattigan: “If only that was possible.”
    The Doctor: “If only that were possible. Conditional clause.”

Is 'was' after 'I wish', 'if only' and 'if' (in conditional clauses) colloquial?

Does it be used in formal speech and writing?

  • Wrong? I don't understand. What is wrong with them? Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 19:27
  • @Matt - It is what I ask to me. Something is wrong because the sentences are reported (SFX Magazine) in an article that give verdicts ironically.
    – user19148
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 19:32
  • @Matt Эллен - After Irene's answer, I have rephrased the question. Now it is more consistent.
    – user19148
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 19:55
  • As an aside, the irony in the lines you cite doesn't lie in any grammatical mistake. In the first one the joke is that people can't adopt grandchildren, although he wishes they could. In the second one I believe the fact that a correct sentence is corrected in a pedantic manner constitutes the funny part.
    – Irene
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 20:13
  • 1
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 23:55

1 Answer 1


There's nothing wrong with the sentences you write. Some people (I believe teachers among them) consider the use of the form was after I wish, if only and if (in conditional clauses) colloquial and claim that it shouldn't be used in formal speech and writing. They claim that the "correct" form to use is were. The language, however, has its own dynamics and is used regardless of the rules imposed.

  • 3
    What 'some people . . . teachers among them' never seem to realise is that rules are derived from the way language is used, and not the other way round. Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 20:05
  • No doubt true, but I wish there were consistent rules about the subjunctive (derived from the way language is currently used) so that I could gleefully break them.
    – Zan700
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 0:15
  • 1
    I find it more gleeful to break rules that are inconsistent, but to each their own. Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 22:58

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