Submitted by abbeautiful on October 24, 2012

wish it would...

When speaking about wish statements, why is it okay to give the short answer form for an action verb (e.g. snow), but not for be + adjective (e.g. to be sunny).

For example, we say “It won’t rain tomorrow, but I wish it would.”

But, “It won’t be sunny tomorrow, but I wish it would be.”

What is the distinction we make here, or is it just an arbitrary rule that we use be?

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As a linking verb, the verb to be works differently to other verbs. In your first example you have just a simple verb - "rain", and it's that verb you drop in your short answer. But in your second example, as you yourself say, you have a verb and an adjective, and it's the adjective you're dropping. However, this only seems to happen with modals like "would, could, might" etc. In normal tenses, we don't seem to need the "be".

It always rains. I wish it wouldn't. - I wish it wouldn't what? - rain
She's always late. I wish she wasn't. - I wish she wasn't what? - late
but if we said:
She's always late. I wish she wouldn't. - I wish she wouldn't what? - be late
I think that's why we need to add "be" with modals, otherwise it sounds a bit strange: you're not quite sure what the speaker is wishing.

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'Wish" is sometimes used to express regret or lament about something:
"I wish it wasn't (or weren't) raining" (using past subjunctive to talk about now)
"I wish it hadn't rained". (using past perfect to talk about simple past)

We often use 'hope' when talking about a real situation in the future:
'I hope it doesn't (or won't) rain.' (using simple or modal )

However if we say: 'I wish it would rain' (using a subjunctive past modal)
then it means the situation in the future is unreal: that is, it is not going to rain/happen.
It is a true 'wish': but when talking about people we are often talking about them changing their general behavior.
So in my book we can say:
I wish she wouldn't always come late. (unreal)
I wish she wasn't always so late. (but she will be late)
I hope she isn't late. (talking about a real situation)
but we can't say:
I wish she wouldn't be late (because we are in fact talking about a real situation)

Best explanation I have; but still not 100% clear even to me!

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Notice how the tense changes affect the meaning in the following:
1) I wish the trees had grown taller. (a specific lament)
2) I wish the trees grew taller. (a general lament)
3) I hope the trees grow taller. (a real possibility in the future)
4) I wish the trees would grow taller. (but it's not going to happen unless they change their behaviour)

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