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Both are in the present perfect, but one uses the verb 'to go' and the other 'to be'. Is there a rule for this?

Is there any chance that the differences between "I have been" vs. "I have gone", are differences in English dialect (I don't know if this is the right word).

Edit Could I say that North American English speakers use "I have gone", and maybe U.K speakers say "I've been"? Or vice versa.

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Actually, they're present perfect. –  Colin Fine Jun 20 '11 at 15:43
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Unless you are a certain former president of the US, you should use "I've been to China"...because, as everyone knows, only Nixon could go to China. –  JeffSahol Jun 20 '11 at 19:59
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7 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

More idioms.

"I have been to somewhere" means that I have gone there and come back. But you can only use this in the perfect (present, past or even future): it isn't available in any other tense:

By the time I was twenty I had been to China.
By next autumn I will have been to China.

but not:

*I am to China.
*I will be to China.
*I am being to China.

The special meaning relates to the word 'been', not any other parts of 'to be'.

In most uses, "go" is unspecific about whether or not there is a return journey:

He's going to China next month.

is probably a trip, but could be emigration.

The case of "gone" brings in the special properties of the perfect. "He has gone" is talking about a state of affairs that includes, or relates to, the present. The most obvious interpretation of

He's gone to China.

is that he is still going, or still there. But as Robusto says the present-relevance could have a different interpretation, so

He's gone to China several times.

necessarily means that he must have returned (or gone somewhere else), so the present relevance is that the sequence of trips is seen as continuing. Contrast

He went to China several times.

which implies that the series of trips is over, and he is not going again.

(These are implications, and may be overridden by other words or by context; but in the absence of anything to the contrary, the sentences will have the meanings I am suggesting.)

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I think this sums it up beautifully. There isn't a hard and fast rule, but this is definitely the way I've experienced the two used. Colin's descriptions of the connotative meaning are spot-on. –  Andrew Jun 22 '11 at 13:56
    
I added a small follow up question, any ideas? –  Istable Jun 28 '11 at 20:55
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@Istable: I've seen no evidence of a US/UK split in this respect. –  Colin Fine Jun 29 '11 at 14:14
    
As a Brit, I agree with Colin's answer above and Rodriguez's below. I think I would use 'gone' only in the sense that he's not (yet) returned. That doesn't mean that the context of "gone" cannot imply a different sense, but neither does that make the other usage correct! –  TrevorD May 14 '13 at 11:06
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Yes, there is a rule.

I've gone to China.

This means that you have gone to China and you are still there.

I've been to China.

This means that you have gone to China, but you have already returned, therefore you have been there.

Imagine the following:

Person A: Where's Peter?
Person B: He has gone to China.

This obviously means that Peter is missing, because he's in China.

Person A: Where have you been last week? I couldn't find you anywhere!
Peter: I've been to China.

P.S.: No matter how many times will you guys down-vote this answer, I'm still sure it's correct. Those who disagree are simply wrong.

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I disagree. "I've gone to China on several occasions." That's perfectly understandable. –  Robusto Jun 20 '11 at 15:25
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Sure, with what you've added, it is, but not without it. –  RiMMER Jun 20 '11 at 15:26
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@Robusto: In my neck of the woods, "I've gone to China on several occasions" is simply bad English. I agree with @RiMMER that you can only say you've gone somewhere when you're still there. –  FumbleFingers Jun 20 '11 at 17:08
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@FumbleFingers: I know what you mean - most of the time been is better when the person concerned is already back. But I think gone can also sometimes be used, especially when the emphasis is on the act/effort of going rather than the fact of it now being completed ("What have you ever done for this company? I've gone to China five times!"). A quick google search provides at least a few samples that fit - eg "[We] have gone to Couples Therapy"; "Gigs I have gone to" - where been would work too, but gone doesn't seem wrong, and emphasises the action (to me at least!). –  psmears Jun 20 '11 at 19:07
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Where have you been last week? is simply bad English, so replies to it are unlikely to be helpful. Where were you last week? or Where have you been for the last week? are fine, but they mean different things. –  TimLymington Sep 25 '12 at 10:04
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In this current period in time, to imply that there is a difference between the two phrases is to grasp at straws when, regardless of culture or background, many native speakers use both phrases interchangeably.

The original implications and differences between the two phrases have faded, which is only natural for words and phrases in a live language. The difference between them is only relevant for explaining how language has evolved.

In short, given their usage in the example sentences, there is no difference in either phrase.

"Here is a puzzle: language change is functionally disadvantageous, in that it hinders communication, and it is also negatively evaluated by socially dominant groups. Nevertheless it is a universal fact of human history." (Univ. of Penn. Dept. of Linguistics)

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Technically:

  • "I've been to X" means that at some point in the past you were actually there at/in X.
  • "I've gone to X" means that you at some point in the past left wherever you were and your destination was X.

In practice, they mean pretty much the same thing. However, the slightly ambiguous nature of the latter phrase makes it more appropriate for leaving signs behind (eg: "Gone Fishing") when you don't in fact know that the person in question has made (or will make) it there. To put it another way, the latter is good if you want the emphasize the trip, the former if you want to emphasize the destination.

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I think for "I" we can't use "have gone to China" but for the others, e.g. "he, she, ...", who are not present now we can use it.

And for all of them we can use "have been to China".

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I think there is a flaw on Richard Rodriguez's example. The dialogue: Person A: Where have you been last week? - there is a grammatical error! No specific time (except a period of time) should be stated within a present perfect tense sentence/question! As opposed to that, it should be read as either:

Where were you last week? or Where have you been since last week?

Then Peter's response should be rephrased as: I was in China (last week).

"I have been to China since last week" also contains a flaw! It should be read as "I have been in China since last week".

Basically, the differentiation between "have been to" and "have gone to" is that we have to understand the background of the behavior. I will never disagree that "have been to" indicates the person has returned, while "have gone to" shows the person is still at such remote location. Perhaps there is another interpretation: "have been to" indicates an experience, while "have gone to" indicates an actual behavior, and even the completion of an actual behavior. Therefore, exception exists with the following example:

An office clerk whose job is to go banking once a day:

The manager: Miss X, I have some cash for bank deposit, could you do it for me? Office clerk: Sorry! I have already gone to the bank today. Would tomorrow be too late?

Although other native speakers would say "I have already been to the bank today", I believe "have gone to" would be more understandable to indicate the completion of a routine or his/her duty.

On the other hand:

Office clerk A: (Excitingly) Hey! Have you been to XXX Bank today? Office clerk B: No, why? what seems so exciting? Office clerk A: Will Smith is supposed to be doing his new movie promotion there.
Office clerk C: You're kidding me! I have been to the store next to the bank and the neighborhood was as quiet as a cemetery!

This example of using "have been to" is to simply indicate the "pure experience" even just limited to a single day.

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This whole issue is strange for me because we are using a state verb (to be) with a preposition that is normally used with event verbs of destination (to and from). Examples:

  • I've traveled to China.
  • I've moved to China.
  • I've immigrated to China.
  • I've swum to China.
  • I've gone to China.
  • I've been to China.

Notice that if I were to replace to with in, most of these sentences would mean something else, or not make sense at all, as in the case of gone. I can't think of any context that would justify saying, "I've gone in China." However, the last sentence seems to have no significant change in meaning whether either preposition is used or not.

Now, considering the opposite:

  • I've lived in China.
  • I've eaten in China.
  • I've worked in China.
  • I've slept in China.
  • I've gone in China.
  • I've been in China.

Notice how the event verb of destination gone sounds confusing in this context. It has no business here. In my opinion, the bigger question is: Do certain state verbs in the perfect verb tense, in combination with the preposition to, take on special idiomatic meaning? I feel like they do!

Examples:

  • have vs. had to
  • look vs. looked to
  • see vs. seen to
  • think vs. thought to
  • be vs. been to
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