Reply to "Unreal Past"

David, Moderator posted:
Mr President posted:

1- When she was younger, Leila wished she .............. faster.

could read - would read - could have read - read 

2- Steinbeck wished people .................... him alone as he hated publicity.

had left - would leave - could leave - left 

I think both sentences express unreal past, so I'd go with "could have read" and "had left"

Hi, Mr. P,

What are these questions from? Did you make the sentences up yourself? You've guessed incorrectly for each question.

The answer to (1) is "could read": "When she was younger, Leila wished she could read faster." As you know, "wished" is the past tense form of "wish"; thus, it indicates that the time of the wish is in the past. "Leila wishes she could read faster"; "Leila wished she could read faster." In order for "could have read" to work, the wish would itself have to be about the past -- for example:

  • Leila wishes she could have read faster when she was younger.

The answer to (2) is "would leave," for the same grammatical reason. The time of the wish is in the past. Just as we would say "He wishes people would leave him alone," we also say, "He wished people would leave him alone." Although "had left" is possible whether "wishes" or "wished" is used, that gives a sense that is clearly not intended. The wish does not concern a time previous to the wish.

Thanks for your concern but I didn't make up these sentences. This is the text where I have got the second sentence. It is a school book 


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