I Wish I Was, I Wish I Were

I’m implementing the edits to Grief: The Great Yearning my last couple of readers suggested, and I was doing fine until I hit this passage:

I’m trying to find comfort in knowing he is no longer suffering, and for a moment yesterday I even envied him. I wish my pain were over, too.

Both readers said “were” should be “was.” Since they are readers, not editors or grammarians, I ignored the suggestion, especially since MS Word grammar check agrees with me. Still, something niggled at me, so I spent an hour online reading various articles comparing I wish it were vs. I wish it was. And this is what I found:

http://www.grammar.net/iwishiwere says: “Was” is used in situations where the statement might once have been or could be a reality. This verb mood is called “indicative”. These subtle differences once enabled a speaker to “indicate” something without using more words to spell it out.

“If I was home, I would be sitting on the couch eating chips.” The speaker indicates with subtlety that he intends to go home, and potato chips will be involved.

“Frank’s not here yet, but if he was, that blueberry pie would be gone.” Because “was” is used, even if it read, “If Frank was here, that pie would be gone,” readers can assume that Frank will show up eventually, and the pie is in danger.

In an unknown situation, it is admissible to use “was”.

“If Betty was smart, she’d go hide that pie.” Even if there is proof that Betty is NOT smart, it is certainly more polite to indicate she might be!

“If it was Friday, I don’t blame her for taking a short lunch.” “Was” is intended to emphasize “Friday” and that it was a fact.

How fun it is that certain things can be hinted at, if the listener can catch the subtleties. Can you think of any other words or parts of speech that change only slightly but definitely alter meaning?

I thought that was the solution to my quandary, change were to was. When I wrote the sentence twenty-one months ago, I deliberately used were. I thought it impossible that the pain of those early days would ever diminish. And yet, though I still have bouts of pain at his being dead, I don’t feel the total and constant agony I felt in the beginning. So if  was connoted hope rather than futility, it would be the better choice.

Unfortunately, wishes always take “were”s. When making a statement that is not factual, the verb is in the subjunctive mood, and the subjuctive of verb “to be” is “were” in the past tense, regardless of what the subject is.

So, despite my change in attitude, the sentence needs to remain as I originally wrote it.

I’m trying to find comfort in knowing he is no longer suffering, and for a moment yesterday I even envied him. I wish my pain was over, too.

Someday, perhaps, it will be.

7 Responses to “I Wish I Was, I Wish I Were”

  1. Eileen Schuh Says:

    I love what you did with the one-word edit, Pat. It reminds me that one tiny little tweak in attitude can vastly improve one’s life.

  2. griefhealing Says:

    For me, the very fact that you thought through so carefully your use of this one little word shows tremendous insight on your part, great effort to be completely honest with yourself (and therefore with your reader) about where you are and where you’ve been in your grief journey, and lends a mountain of credibility to your work on this book. I cannot wait to read the rest of it. ♥

  3. Susan Benson Hamel Says:

    Have you ever heard the song “Punky’s Dilemma” by Simon and Garfunkel? It starts with the lyrics “I wish I was a Kellogg’s cornflake, floating in my bowl taking movies…” Which doesn’t really do justice to the tone of your article, but it was the first thing I thought of. 🙂

  4. Dana Says:

    Loved this article… and I personally like ‘was’ better than ‘were’ in the sentence described.


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