I wish I had been there/could have been there

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Senior Member
Hello there,

What is it now? Well, I find them expressing the same idea but the 'could have...' case has something nostalgic to it. Is it really the case???

I wish I had been there. (simple statement that I'm sorry I weren't there)
I wish I could have been there. (????) the same meaning but said with regret.

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  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I think both could express regret, hyperslow: but you may be right that the second is a touch more regretful than the first:

    I wish I had been there (but I wasn't).
    I wish I could have been there = I wish it had been possible for me to be there (but it wasn't possible).


    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    I'm not so sure regret is the right emotion here, since being regretful implies that one could've acted differently in the past -- which is not the case in the could have example. It may instead just be general upset-ness.

    Perhaps the reason that the could have version suggests more upset-ness is that it implies that the speaker wanted (in the past) to be there, but was unable to, and so was not there. The other version, however, implies nothing of the sort: perhaps the speak knew nothing about the event before it happened (or he did know but decided not to go) and is only now feeling upset/the regret of not going.

    In other words...

    I wish I could have been there. <-- I wanted to go (in the past), but was unable to. I was already sad/upset (regretful?) that I couldn't go, and now that you told me all about it, I'm even more so.

    I wish I had been there. <-- I didn't know anything was happening, or maybe I did but decided not to go; however, now that you told me about it, I regret/am upset/am sad that I didn't go.

    But I'm not completely convinced, considering that, even if one had no idea about the event, one can still say, "Aw man, that sounds awesome - I wish I could've been there!"

    Maybe it's the simple fact that impossibility (the could have version) is more upsetting than not-happening (the other version)...sort of like Loob was suggesting, I think.
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