Wish clauses



I would like to ask a question on "wish" clauses. I wonder if the sentence below is correct or not.

I wish I dreamt of her whenever I fall asleep.

If it's not, what's wrong with it?

Ismail Sezgin


The correct modern version would be


I wish I dreamt of her whenever I fell asleep.

This version, the one in the question


I wish I dreamt of her whenever I fall asleep

with the present tense fall, would have been deemed correct two hundred years ago. Since that time, however, the language has changed so that the verb forms used after wish in all the other dependent clauses, not just the object noun clause, are now correct in the past tense form, to fit with the past tense form in the object noun clause.

A similar example:


I wish we lived in a world where children didn’t have to worry about their safety whenever they went to school.

The past tense form is used with all the verbs to underscore the “unreality” of the ideas. The time reference of this statement, like sentence (a), is general present.

In another version, the time reference is either present or post-present, i.e., some time in the future:


I wish I would dream of her whenever I fall asleep

In this case, the falling asleep could be during the general present time period or at some unspecified time in the future.

Marilyn Martin


Sometimes I like to contrast wish and hope. When something is a fantasy, then you often use wish with a subjunctive form. One thing the subjunctive does is to show that the speaker doesn't really expect something to happen; the speaker has a fantasy, not a hope, and distances himself from the verb by using this subjunctive form.

The subjunctive form looks like the past tense form; in this case, the forms would be dreamt (or dreamed) and fell. Since Ismael’s statement begins with wish, it must be a fantasy, so “I wish I dreamt of her….” is correct. (Fall in this sentence is not correct with wish.)

However, if there's a possibility for something to happen, you can use hope, with indicative verbs. If the sentence above is changed to:

I hope I dream of her whenever I fall asleep,

we know that, sometimes, the dreamer does indeed dream of his beloved. This is a more optimistic statement than the fantasy in the wish sentence.



(To see a related comment, on "I wish she was/were," click here.)

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