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A while ago I wrote this sentence:

Sorry to interrupt you, sir. But I think you called the wrong number.

Something felt wrong so I Googled: I think you've called the wrong number. To my surprise, That phrase has more hits on Google than I think you called the wrong number.

So my question is, which version is more common. And why?

  • From Google, you already know which one is more common. Perhaps, you want to ask why people might prefer the present perfect as opposed to simple past tense. – urnonav Apr 26 at 17:54
  • Personally, I'm quite shocked by the fact that the sentence implies that there is a single wrong number that everybody calls. I say "a wrong number", whether I prefix that with "you called" or "you've called" or "you have" or "you've got"... and incredibly enough, Google tells me there is only a single match on all the Internet for "I think you've called a wrong number". However, when you remove the "I think" (you can be polite and say I believe, you must...) you get many more. – Law29 Apr 26 at 22:28
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    @Law29, in other contexts, e.g., the phrase "you've picked up the wrong briefcase" using "a" in place of "the" would definitely sound wrong. Your version seems more logical, granted, but it isn't idiomatic. One possible explanation. Another one. Oh, and several answers here. – Harry Johnston Apr 26 at 22:40
  • You forgot the even more popular third option, "You have the wrong number." – John Wu Apr 27 at 2:33
  • True story. "I'm sorry, you've got the wrong number" - "Then why did you answer it?" – Dawood says reinstate Monica Apr 27 at 3:25
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Either one is ok. We know exactly when the person called the wrong number - it was when you heard the phone ring, right before you picked up. The present perfect tense ("you've called") is fine because you know this action was in the recent past, and the present perfect is commonly used for recent past actions. The simple past tense ("you called") is also fine because again, we know this action happened in the past (the recent past, but still the past). There is only one past event here, so you don't have to worry about using different tenses to make the order of past events clear, which is often a reason to use different tenses. For instance: "You called me yesterday, at which time I told you this was the wrong number, but you've called me ten more times since then!" - in this case, the present perfect indicates an ongoing action that might still be happening now.

EDIT: I will also say that I agree with David Siegel that "Sorry, wrong number" is a more common response when someone calls you accidentally.

EDIT 2: Mazura also has a good point - you are probably more likely to apologize if you are the one who has dialed incorrectly.

3

Both are very common and perfectly acceptable. Since this is in fact used in informal speech, I doubt that google can tell us which is more common in practice. Strictly speaking, the calling is in the (very recent) past and is complete, so "You have called the wrong number." (shortened to "you've called") is proper. but the simple past "you called" is not wrong, and is one syllable shorter.

In practice, I suspect that just "Wrong number!" {click} or perhaps "Sorry, wrong number." is more common than either. (There was a famous radio play entitled Sorry, Wrong Number by the way. Quite thrilling.)

  • Thanks for the answer. This is my theory: "You called the wrong number" sounds more like the operator is saying, "You called the wrong number (back then in the past)." And "You've called the wrong number" is more like they are referring to this number (in the present). Not sure if I'm right or wrong. – alexchenco Apr 26 at 17:57
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    @alexchenco either might well be said by the person who answers the phone and determines that the caller made an error. There is no real difference in meaning in common usage. – David Siegel Apr 26 at 17:59
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    @alexchenco I recall an exchange from a comedy routine: "Cherry Hill Baptist Church?" / 'Oi, have you got a wrong number!" (response in an obvious Jewish/Brooklyn accent.) – David Siegel Apr 26 at 18:02
  • Maybe I'm wrong but I think "You have called the wrong number" is a little bit more polite than "You called the wrong number"? – alexchenco Apr 26 at 18:05
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    @alexchenco Perhaps, I'm not sure. The difference, if any, is very slight. Either is far more polite than what I think is the more common response. – David Siegel Apr 26 at 18:09
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Neither.

I think you got the wrong number.

"Sorry, wrong number." is what I say when I called the wrong number.

Like the other answer says, Google isn't going to help you here, nor would downvotes on this answer (serving posterity), for its brevity or apparent (?) lack of proper grammar.

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