Welcome to Pellissippi Parkway's Look at English Grammar

Objects and the Passive

(Look here for a general look at Objects in English.
Complements of Wish (next page)
The question was, "What is the difference between 'I wish you came here' and 'I wish you would come here'? The "best answer" on Yahoo answers was
The difference is one of time frame.
"I wish you came here" -- the person being addressed did not come. It implies that the event has passed.
"I wish you would come here" -- the person being addressed is being asked to come in the future. In this case, "would" is the subjunctive mood of "will," indicating that the action is not necessarily going to happen because it is only desired. It expresses some doubt.
Is that right? It doesn't seem right."

That's because it's not. It's partly right, but partly wrong. There is a third aspect/tense/mood combination which can be used after wish - 'I wish you had come here' - and the three have different uses.

First, a quick look at what is called "the English tense system". Actually, English has only two tenses: past and present (or past and non-past). (The past tense is also called the "preterite", to distinguish it from the label "past" which can be applied to a lot of verb forms.) But what about the future tense? Technically, English has no future tense. We form our "future tense" with the modal auxilliary "will". It doesn't act like a tense; instead, it acts just like the other modal auxilliary verbs, such as "must, could, can", do.

We also have aspect: pefect and progressive. The perfect aspect is formed with the auxilliary verb "have" and the 'past participle' or -EN form. Its use is primarily to relegate a verb into past time as compared to the main narrative ("I had gone to today when I met him"). The progressive aspect is formed with the auxilliary verb "be" and the 'present participle' or -ING form. Its use is to emphasize the process of the verb ("I was walking down the street when I saw him").

We have mood as well, formed with those modal auxilliary verbs. There are nine in English, four pairs which were originally tense pairs but which now are most often used tenselessly, and one odd one. They are "can, could; shall, should; will, would; may, might; must". These are used with the bare verb to make statements of probability, desirability, ability, need, obligation, permission, doubt, and so on. They are context dependent (for instance, "he may take those" can express permission or probability, and "you must love your father" can be a deduction or a command.)

Now, let's look at "wish". It takes a number of different kinds of complements. I can wish

Now, note that in the last complement, it's "past tense" verbs that get used: I wish that you came/you had come/you would come. We don't use the present tense or the future modality: *I wish that you will come. Why? We just don't.

Don't worry about trying to make that make sense. It's arbitrary, as language tends to be. The relationship between "tense" and "time" is tenuous at best. "I wanted to ask you if you could help me" looks like a past tense, but I'm asking right now by saying this sentence, and I want help in the future - immediate future or distant - not in the past. "I go to town on Tuesdays" is not describing anything happening at the present (unless it's Tuesday and you've stopped me on my way, but even then it's not really about this moment).

With "wish" we use past tense forms. But there are three ways to form "you come here" in a past form: you came here, you had come here, you would come here. (Note that "you would come here" is past in form but certainly not necessarily in meaning - context tells you if it is.) All three are valid. Each means something different.

So, the question was "what is the difference"? The answer is:

Note that in the first case, the simple past turns the verb into the same usage as we saw with "I go to town on Tuesdays" - the description of an habitual action. In the second, the past perfect, which places the time of the verb into the past as compared to the man verb (wish), describes something that happened (or didn't happen) before the wish was made. And in the third, the modal verb is the past tense form of "will", which makes the "future", and thus expresses action which occur after the main verb.

Thus, with "wish" you place the verb of what you're wishing for into the appropriate past tense form, depending on what it would be if it were in its own sentence.