Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I wish I would have...

One of the common "errors" that I've been noticing recently is the use of "I wish I would have" (and similar constructions) for "I wish I had" (and similar constructions). Of course in reality there's nothing wrong with this construction; it's simply not the proscriptive one. My guess is that it's not even the less common construction.

A quick check on google gives the following results:

  • "I wish I would have" - 5,080,000
  • "I wish I had" - 19,900,000


Okay, so the nonstandard construction is indeed less common, but only by about 4:1. And five million hits is enough to question why people use this construction. Saying "that's how they learned it" isn't explanatory, because this just shifts the question back a generation, to why their parents said it that way, ad infinitum. My bet would be on the desire for a different construction marking the protasis of a conditional clause (the protasis is "if" clause of a conditional construction; the apodosis is the "then" clause). While language does tend to eschew redundancy, there are so many cases of redundancy in language(s) that this is clearly a constraint which is readily violated. The phrasing "I wish I had gone to the store" is perhaps a bit puzzling if we take out the conditionality. Why "I had gone to the store"? Why not "I have gone to the store"? After all, it's a wish about the present situation. This may be why some people prefer "I wish I would have gone to the store", because it's transparent. "I would have gone to the store" makes more sense out of the subordinate context, and simultaneously shows the conditional/irrealis nature of the wish in a way "I wish I had gone to the store" does not.

6 comments:

literalminded said...

Maybe it's analogy with the more acceptable wish I could have.

austerity101 said...

The reason that it's "I wish I had gone" and not "I wish I have gone" is because it's not actually an issue of tense, but of mood. Unfortunately, in English, most of our subjunctive use looks exactly like the past tense, which leads to people saying "I wish I was rich" instead of "I wish I were rich."

And "I wish I could have" is also incorrect. "I wish I had been able to" would be a more correct construction, although I do find myself using the the former in speech from time to time.

austerity101 said...

On second thought, I think a case could be made for "I wish I could have gone," since we would say "I wish I could go" in another instance. But for me, "could" still stands out as a conditional word, and one that suggests the future in some capacity.

Largo said...

I wish he had studied harder for the final exam -- it turned out to be harder than expected.

I wish he would have studied harder for the final exam -- but his term grade was so low that he had given up hope.

Anonymous said...

I wish you had used the word "prescriptive" instead of "proscriptive." Very confusing and absolutely incorrect, although it doesn't quite succeed at communicating the opposite of what you meant: "To proscribe" means to prohibit.

Ryan Denzer-King said...

By "proscriptive" I meant "from the stance of proscriptive people". "Prescriptive" is more often used to mean the type of grammar people learn in an English class (which is obviously a different grammar than most people use), but I often use the term "proscriptive" to refer to this state of mind, since most prescriptive edicts are proscriptions, e.g., your claim that my use of "proscriptive" is "very confusing and absolutely incorrect". Perhaps I should have mentioned "I wish I would have" as a proscribed construction instead.