Difference between ‘been & gone’

(Explanation about the differentiation of ‘been’ and ‘gone’)

Table of contents – difference ‘been & gone’

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Usage of ‘been’ and ‘gone’
  2. Particularities of ‘been’ and ‘gone’
  3. Special aspects in British English
  4. Further explanations and exercises

When and how are the verbs ‘been’ and ‘gone’ used?

Since the two English verb forms been and gone often cause problems in their use for English language learners, the ambiguities are discussed in detail here. In fact, both words are the participles (in particular, past participles or, for the sake of simplicity, third verb forms) of ‘to be’ (which is been) and ‘to go’ (which is gone) respectively. Being a participle means that they mainly occur as part of the compound tenses (such as present perfect and past perfect) in most cases. Now, consider the following points:

  • Usually, ‘been’ is used in conjunction with all perfect tenses to indicate that the speaker (you yourself or another person) has been somewhere and is back now or that the person is no longer there (absent). Examples:
    • “Sam has been to Madrid over ten times. He knows the city very well.”
      • Example statement including the auxiliary verb ‘has’ in the present perfect simple.
      • Meaning: Sam is not in Madrid at the moment.
    • “We had already been to London once before we moved there in 2003.”
      • Example sentence demonstrating the past perfect simple with the auxiliary ‘had’.
      • Meaning: The people were already back from London at the time of the move.
  • In contrast, ‘gone’ is utilised to show that a person is not present at the moment of speaking but absent. Then, in most cases, it also appears with all perfect tenses:
    • “Where is Sally? I haven’t seen her for a while. – She is not here. She has gone to Canada.”
      • Example showing the present perfect simple and the auxiliary verb ‘has’.
      • Meaning: Sally is not present at the questioner’s location right now. She is in Canada.
    • “When I arrived home, the kids were sleeping. They had already gone to bed.”
      • Example comment with the past perfect and ‘had’ as an auxiliary.
      • Meaning: The children were no longer in the living room or entrance area at the time but already in bed in the children’s room.
  • Watch out: The participle ‘been’ is a full verb in all the above examples. However, it may also occur as an auxiliary verb constructing the present perfect continuous. In that case, it must not be confused in its meaning. Consider the illustration:
    • “The two friends have been travelling around the world.”
      • Here, ‘have been’ are two auxiliary verbs that are combined with the main verb ‘travelling’ in the ing-form.

Comparison

gone been
“Graham has gone to the supermarket.” “Graham has been to the supermarket.”
Which means: → He is still there. Which means: → He is not there anymore.

Particularities when using ‘been/gone’

Besides the use as a perfect tense in the active voice (as mentioned above), ‘gone’ can also function as part of the passive voice. Is this the case, it indicates that something or someone is no longer there (and most likely will not come back). Compare the two example sentences:

  • “Oh, dear! My wallet is gone. I think I’ve lost it.”
    • The wallet cannot move ‘actively’ and will most probably not reappear.
  • “Hey John, where is your uncle from Australia? I wanted to talk to him. – Sorry, but he is gone. He flew back yesterday.”
    • The uncle has left and will certainly not come back for the time being.

Special aspects of ‘been/gone’ used in British English

As an additional aspect, some kind of idiom exists that is mainly used in Great Britain or, precisely, in British English. In detail, the fixed phrase ‘been and gone’ expresses that someone was there (briefly) but also had to leave quickly again. Such a ‘come and go’ may occur several times. Read the examples:

  • “Have you seen Tom? – Yes, he’s been and gone. He’s swamped at the moment.”
  • “Our bosses have been and gone. They left suddenly.”

Further explanations related to the ‘Differentiation of ‘been’ and ‘gone’

The following explanations refer to the topic ‘Explanation about the difference in usage of ‘been’ and ‘gone’ in English’ and might be helpful as well: