How to Use the Past Participles ‘Been’ and ‘Gone’ Correctly
At first sight, ‘been’ and ‘gone’ appear to be simple to distinguish.
‘Been’ is the past participle of the verb ‘to be’, and so, as such, is used in perfect tenses. Here are some examples:
‘I have been very tired recently.’
‘My car has been stolen.’
‘Gone’ is the past participle of the verb ‘to go’, and so is used in perfect tenses to represent this common verb. Again, here are some examples:
‘My brother has gone to Europe.’
‘Where have they gone?’
However, there is one situation when these two participles, which appear to be totally different, are linked. That situation is in movement.
‘Gone’, as the past participle of ‘to go’, represents when a person of thing has moved to another place, such as in the examples above. Here are some more examples:
‘My colleague Simon has gone home early today.’
‘Where have you gone? We need you back here in the office.’ (A cell phone conversation)
The emphasis in these examples is that the subject of the sentence is no longer in the place where the statement is made, or where the subject began.
‘Been’, as the past participle of ‘to be’, is often used to speak about states, such as emotions and feelings, or to describe a passive action (where ‘to be’ is used as an auxiliary).
However, ‘been’ is also used to speak about movement. In this case, the person or thing moved to another place, but has since returned to the original place. Here are some examples:
‘Have you ever been to Mexico?’
‘Yes, I’ve been to Mexico three times.’
In this instance, the conversation is definitely not taking place in Mexico, so represents a journey that was made and then returned from. In this case, three times.
In this way, ‘been’ is typically used in the present perfect tense to talk about experiences of travel or movement, again such as in the example above.
‘Gone’ Vs ‘Been’
There is, therefore, a fundamental difference between using ‘gone’ and ‘been’ to talk about movement. Note the contrast in these examples:
‘Where have you gone?’ (A cell phone conversation between two people who were in the same place at some stage before the conversation)
‘Where have you been?’ (A face-to-face conversation between two people who are now in the same place, but one of whom was absent for a period).
In the second example above, it would also be acceptable to say ‘Where did you go?’, particularly in the United States. In British English, the present perfect tense with ‘been’ (as in the example above) would be more common.
So, in summary, ‘gone’ is movement in one directions, whereas ‘been’ represents a movement or journey that was returned from.
If you have ‘gone to France’, you haven’t come back (you are still in France).
If you have ‘been to France’, you are definitely not in France now.
These are examples of typical mistakes when using ‘gone’ and ‘been’:
‘Have you ever
goneto Mexico? – ‘been’
goneto Mexico three times.’ – ‘been’
gonethere before.’ – ‘been’
‘Where did you go?’ ‘I’ve just
goneto the shop to buy this soda.’ – ‘been’
Generally speaking, it is much more common to make a mistake by using ‘gone’ instead of ‘been’ than vice versa.