I came across the not exactly uncommon sentence, I wished the ground would open and swallow me up.
Shouldn’t it read, I wished the ground had opened and swallowed me up?
7 January, 2014 at 8:57
Total posts: 776
Reply To: Wishes
In fact these two sentences are both correct, but they express two slightly different meanings.
I wish the ground would open and swallow me up.
Wish + would expresses impatience, annoyance or dissatisfaction (or some similar feeling) with something that’s happening in the present. In this case we can imagine that the person is feeling embarrassed and wants the ground to swallow him up to escape his embarrassment.
I wish the ground had opened and swallowed me up
Wish + past perfect expresses that we want a situation in the past to be different. We often use this form to express a regret. In this case the person is recounting a past event (again probably where he felt embarrassed). At that time he wanted the ground to come and swallow him up, but it didn’t.
The fact that your original sentences use "wished" and not "wish" probably means that the the person is telling someone a story using indirect/reported speech, rather than using direct speech.
Thank you for the prompt answer.
Taking your explanation, I’ve come to the conclusion here only would works when talking about the present like this: She’s making him blush and he wishes the ground would open and swallow him up.
instead of this: … he wishes the ground opened and swallowed him up.
The reason is simply, nobody likes seeing the ground open and getting swallowed up. The phrase suggests only dissatisfaction with the current situation.
Consequently it should read in the past, She made me blush and I wished the ground would have opened and swallowed me up,
or simply She made me blush and I wished the ground would open and swallow me up,
because it’s timeless in a way but never, … I wish(-ed) the ground had opened and swallowed me up,
because nobody will ever really regret that the earth didn’t open at a time, apart from some morbid misanthropists.
thank you and ahoi.
7 January, 2014 at 12:00
Total posts: 158
Reply To: Wishes
Where did the original quote come from? I’ve heard similar constructions used in informal speech and I’m wondering if this is simply English used informally.
(It’s that old descriptive vs prescriptive situation of course!)
Hello ICAL TEFL,
I’ve no idea where the phrase stems from and moreover, I cannot judge its stylistic level. It’s just funny to me. But I would have coined something like this… “I wished the ground would cleave athunder and swallow me up”…to express more grudge against me and the rest of the world. Fortunately for the anglophone and the Dollar of course, I don’t have a bit to coin.
Anyway, it’s certainly not that essential English phrase but at least some learned German consider it worth giving a place in a dictionary, even exactly this sentence above.
And indeed, what is essential here is the descriptive argument. An Imagination that can never be realised does neither have a future nor a past. It’s eternal, as it were. And so there is no reason to destroy those imaginations by means of profane rules, only for the sake of correct grammar.
“I went deathly pale as I saw her dancing in the gleam of moonlight. And I wished I … Dracula.” It’s for real!