From Word Genius
You have a wish. But to express that wish, should you say “I wish I were” or “I wish I was”?
Short answer: “I wish I were” is grammatically correct, but let’s take a further look at the rules. We’re going to talk about subjunctive rules.
“Were” and “was” are both past-tense conjugations of the verb “to be.” Use “was” when you are using the first-person singular pronoun “I” or the third-person singular pronouns “he” or “she.”
“Were” is the appropriate version when you are using second-person singular and plural pronouns “you,” “your,” “yours.” You can also use “were” with first- and third-person plural pronouns “we” and “they.”
Confused about pronouns yet? Try saying them out loud. “He were going to school” isn’t right, but “he was going to school” rolls off the tongue.
Why Is It “I Wish I Were”?
Good question! After all the pronouns we just talked about, why are we breaking the rules? We’re not breaking the rules, we’re just using something called the “subjunctive mood.”
The subjunctive is used when referring to potential or hypothetical situations, like wishing for something that doesn’t exist yet. “I wish I were” is grammatically correct because you’re wishing for something that hasn’t occurred yet. Once it becomes real, you can switch back to “was.”
“I wish I were surrounded by a pile of puppies right now.”
Flash forward to visiting an animal shelter: “I was the happiest person in the world when I was playing with all the puppies.”
You can also identify the subjunctive by the context of the sentence. Think about the song “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof. Starting the sentence with “if” indicates the potential nature of the situation. It doesn’t actually exist yet, and the subjunctive should be used.