It seems agreed (for example in this question) that wish is usually** counterfactual; that is you wish that something actually the case were not.

I quit my job last month: I wish I hadn't.

I have to go to work tomorrow: I wish I didn't (because the emphatic form is I do have to).

But The office just called: I will have to go in tomorrow after all. I wish I...? Not didn't, because that means something else. Not won't; wish never takes will because in the case of a simple future you can just act differently, rather than wishing. Hadn't seems as if short for I wish I hadn't had to; again , different meaning. It looks simple, but I am at a loss: can anyone give a reasoned answer?

Edit: StoneyB has pointed out that will have to here may be equivalent to have to. I am not sure about that, but in any event there are other cases where the difference is clear. If Joe keeps coming in late, I shall have to fire him is obviously not I have to. If you then say I wish I..., then what next? In other words, how do you say in normal speech I wish that it were not the case that I may/shall have to fire him in the future?

** There are edge cases/other uses (according to taste), like I wish it would rain, I wish you'd keep quiet, and We wish you a Merry Christmas; subject to correction, I don't think any of them are relevant. And, if you have Aladdin's lamp, you can wish I had a million pounds and have it appear: whether that's counterfactual is rather too metaphysical for this site.

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    What's the something else you take "I wish I didn't" to mean in the third example? Is what's troubling you the will/did contrast? But contemporary usage no longer permits "I wish I wouldn't", while "I will . . . after all" could (after all) have been phrased "I do . . . after all" without changing the meaning. I think your second and third examples are practically identical. Aug 16, 2012 at 12:38
  • The choice in such cases depends to a large extent on how the speaker views the action or event described, and on the surrounding text. But the usage is very complex because it has several senses, one of which is a negative polarity item; but, in cases like these, rules would be silly, and you should not trust any English text that contains them! Aug 16, 2012 at 12:40
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    I think you're simply mistaken about the significance of "will" here. "I will have to go in tomorrow after all. I wish I didn't [have to go in]" is fine. It doesn't make any difference whether the first sentence starts with "I have to..." or with "I will have to..." Aug 16, 2012 at 14:03
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    As far as I can observe, native speakers would use "didn't". In another context, "didn't" might mean something else. But... so what? Also, bear in mind that the language doesn't owe you any guarantee that how it operates will be "reasoned" according to some other arbitrary sense of reasoning extraneous to the language. Aug 16, 2012 at 14:37
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    Exactly. You're expecting syntagmatic phenomena to operate paradigmatically; it doesn't work like that. That is, this is syntax, and syntax is loosely-connected and full of variation because it's put together out of rusty old bits and pieces of whatever's lying around. The way one construction works when you attempt to apply another one to it is unlikely to resemble the way some other one might. And in this construction, you have a counterfactual verb, an epistemic modal verb, and a negative, with all arguments deleted; naturally there's problems. What else? Aug 16, 2012 at 14:52

1 Answer 1


If Joe keeps coming in late, I (shall) have to fire him

Can't be followed by I wish I and a simple negation, because you can't wish away conditionals like that, you can only hope they don't turn out the way you don't want.

I hope I don't (have to).

Or that the antecedent doesn't occur

I hope he doesn't come in late.

You can wish for something that obviates the need for hope:

I wish I wasn't in this position.


I wish he were a better employee.

Your other example works like this:

The office just called: I will have to go in tomorrow after all. I wish I didn't have to.

Once you use will (or shall) things change. The more verbs you add the more ambiguity in your wish you have to work around. I have to -> I wish I didn't (have to). The have to is optional in the wish because it can be elided through back reference (or what ever it's really called) to the previous statement. When you add in will or (shall): I will have to -> I wish I didn't have to, then the have to becomes mandatory to remove the ambiguity of what didn't negates (your will or your having to).

  • This point seems essentially the same as the one I made above in comments, but a subtle difference exists. When we say "I will have to..." that statement can be interpreted in a large number of way, while saying "I have to ..." there is less space for ambiguity. +1, anyway! Aug 16, 2012 at 15:15

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