What’s the difference between been to and gone to?
Although been is the past participle of the verb be, it is also an alternative past participle for the verb go. Deciding between gone to and been to in perfect sentences depends on where the person in the sentence is currently:
- we use gone to for unfinished visits; the person has visited a place and not yet returned
- —Where’s Joe? I haven’t seen him yet.
- —He’s gone to London for a few days, he’ll be back next week.
- Joe is still in London at the time of speaking
- we use been to for completed visits; the person has visited a place and has since returned
- Sarah has been to the supermarket, so the fridge is full.
- At the time of speaking Sarah is no longer at the supermarket
- Chris has been to Spain many times, in fact he is going again in summer.
- Chris is not in Spain at the time of speaking but he was often there in the past.
Been is the alternative past participle of the verb go, meaning that we have to use the preposition to. We only use the preposition in when been acts as the past participle of be.
- I’ve been to California three times.
I’ve been in California three times.
- I was there three times in the past but I’m not there at the moment of speaking
- I’ve been in California for 6 months.
- I arrived in California 6 months ago and I am still there now
Been to and gone to in the other perfect tenses
- In the past perfect, had been to indicates that someone had visited a place and since returned at a certain point in the past
- I had already been to Spain, but it was Sophie’s first visit.
- I was in Spain before this visit in the past
- In contrast, had gone to shows that a person was not present at a certain point in the past.
- Jamie had gone to the gym so he didn’t see the fire in the kitchen.
- Jamie was at the gym when the fire started
- In the future perfect will have been to and will have gone to are similar in meaning; they both express that a person will have visited a place before a certain point in time in the future.
- I think that by next year I will have been to all the major cities in the UK.
- I think that by next year I will have gone to all the major cities in the UK.