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In your opinion do these two sentences have the exact same meaning?

  1. John had a fight with Alex last week, I wish you had been there to stop them.
  2. John had a fight with Alex last week, I wish you were there to stop them.

How about these ones...?

  1. Mum fell down the stairs and hurt herself really badly, I didn't know what to do, I wish you had been here.
  2. Mum fell down the stairs and hurt herself really badly, I didn't know what to do, I wish you were here.

I feel like the second sentence implies that the person wishes that the other person was here right at this very moment, however they may not exactly mean that, perhaps native speakers tend to make this kind of error regularly?

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  • Your question is really about using the verb wish AND were/had been. I would edit my question.
    – Lambie
    May 6 '21 at 13:17
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To be grammatical in English, the verb wish in the present tense followed by a second clause is used like this (basically):

Present Tense spoken at a present time

  • "I wish you were here/there". I say to my friend right now in the present time on the phone.
  • "I wish you were playing today.

Present Tense spoken at a present time about the past

  • "I wish you had been here/there". I say in the present to my friend about some past event/time/. AKA "I wish you'd been here/there."
  • I wish you had been playing yesterday.

It really is as simple as that. Generally, learners have to memorize these patterns.

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"I wish you had been there" is correct.

Although "were" is the past tense second-person singular of be, it can also be used for future conditionals, for example, "if I were to go tomorrow...". We also use "were" when 'wishing' about the present or future, for example "I wish you were coming tomorrow", or "I wish I were rich". We don't tend to use it about wishes for the past.

Although the first person in your example is "wishing" in the present, it is about something in the past, so "were" does not sound right. The only way it would sound right was if they were recounting now how they wished at the time, for example "I wished that you were there".

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  • "Wish you were here" is the classic picture postcard message, meaning "I wish my friends could be on holiday with me now". May 4 '21 at 8:48
  • Would you agree that native speakers tend to make mistakes and use "Were" instead of "had been"?
    – FalaGringo
    May 5 '21 at 2:18
  • @FalaGringo Native speakers don't tend to make 'mistakes' so much as to fall into bad habits... there are a few notable things that a lot of people say incorrectly, and they go uncorrected. But this isn't really one of them. When I read your examples, I instinctively knew it didn't sound right.
    – Astralbee
    May 6 '21 at 8:23

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