Wishing You Were Here

To make myself even more fascinating at a swanky cocktail party (the likes to which I am constantly invited), I started chatting about the present unreal conditional. Waxing philosophical(ly), I soon realized that my audience were in over their heads, so I promised them each that their secret wish to learn more about this spectacularly fascinating topic was my command, and I’m a woman of my word(s)…

In grammar, imaginative conditional sentences express hypothetical conditions or conditions the speaker views as not factual or untrue. They may be dreams or wishes, or they could express advice. Here we use the subjunctive verb form — the simple past tense — in the “if” clause — but we use were, not was, for the verb be (and that includes using were with I, he, she, it”). For the present unreal conditional, as its title suggests, the situation is in the present and not real.

wish John were more interested in his studies. (Present unreal conditional.) If John were more interested in his studies, he would get good grades, but John isn’t interested in his studies, so he doesn’t get good grades.

Hallie wishes George Clooney were living nearby. (Present unreal conditional.) If George Clooney were living nearby, Hallie could see him often, but George Clooney doesn’t live nearby, so Hallie never sees him in person.

Hallie wishes that the present unreal conditional didn’t [simple past tense here!] cause all of these difficulties. (Present unreal conditional.) If it didn’t cause these difficulties, more people would understand it, but it does cause difficulties, so more people don’t understand it.

I wish the present unreal conditional were easy, but I hope this explanation helps you speak properly and engage in more meaningful dialogue at yet another soiree. Grammar can improve your social life — and even save you from what might otherwise have been a headache-igniting, eardrum-busting conversation.

My English Quarters
Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English