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"Wish", used as a verb, means that one wants something to be true although one knows it is either impossible or unlikely. So it involves the use of the past subjunctive.

To make a wish about the present, use a past-tense verb, or "were" in the case of verb "be":
I wish I were a bird.

To make a wish about the future, use a past-tense modal verb, frequently "would", or a past-tense verb if it is difficult to tell future from present:
She wished that Ben would come home soon.
I wish that I could go there with you tomorrow.
I wish I didn't have to go to work today.

To make a wish about the past, use a past-perfect verb, or a past-tense modal verb plus a present-perfect verb form:
Sometimes I wish I had never been born.
I wish I had been able to drive a car then.

Notice that your sentence "I wish I could have driven a car then" does not mean what you want to say when you correct the sentence "I wish I could drive a car then", and doesn't sound right to me.

If the "ability" is involved, we have to say "I wish I had been able to drive car then" (I wasn't able to drive a car then). If I regret not having driven a car at that time, we have to say "I wish I had driven a car then" (I didn't drive a car then). If we want to say something about the decision of going somewhere by train, by air or on foot instead of driving a car, we can say "I could have driven a car then" (but I chose not to drive a car then). If I regret that decision, we can say "I shouldn't have driven a car then" (I did drive a car then), "I should have gone there on foot; I could have chosen not to drive a car" (I did drive a car then). It all depends on what we intend to convey.

Chuncan Feng
China
Last edited by Chuncan Feng
Thanks to Chuncan Feng for the comprehensive answer. Chuncan Feng is correct in saying that "be able to" is used for past ability:

"I wish I had been able to drive a car then"

I should add, however, that if the verb "drive" refers to a skill or ability, or to the possibility of performing the action, the idea can be expressed with "could have." Note these examples:

"” I wish I could have heard your performance, but I had to be out of town that night

"” I wish I could have understood the situation better, but I didn't have all the facts at that time

"” I wish I could have played the tuba in elementary school but I wasn't big enough

"” I wish I could have driven a car when I applied for employment, because that kind of job paid more

The meaning of ability is further illustrated if we change the indefinite article to the definite article:

"” I wish my friend Anita could have driven the car when I had to go to the emergency room, but she had never learned

Marilyn

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