What is the difference between the following two statements.

By the time you sent me the email, I was gone.

By the time you sent me the email, I had gone.

Both of them clearly expresses what had already happened.

  • "I was gone home" is ungrammatical – simchona Feb 25 '12 at 19:41
  • Why would people use it then? – Noah Feb 25 '12 at 19:47
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    I don't see the sentence anywhere – simchona Feb 25 '12 at 19:50
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    that's not what you posted in your question. – simchona Feb 25 '12 at 19:56
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    Start by reading "I'm done" or "I've done". – RegDwigнt Feb 25 '12 at 20:55

If there’s a difference between the sentences in your edited question, I would say that ‘I was gone’ emphasises the state of having gone and that ‘I had gone' emphasises the act of going.

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  • "Gone" happened before the email was sent. Then why both of them are possible? We say we use past perfect for actions happened before another action in the past. – Noah Feb 25 '12 at 23:42
  • @Noah: In 'I was gone', 'gone' has the role of an adjective. – Barrie England Feb 26 '12 at 7:44
  • Okay, thanks. But 'was' is still simple past. How could we use it in this case? Shouldn't it be in past perfect? – Noah Feb 26 '12 at 8:19
  • @Noah: Both are possible, depending on whether the speaker wants to emphasise the action or the state. – Barrie England Feb 26 '12 at 8:23
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    @Noah, He was gone is the state that you found when you arrived home, hence the simple past of the verb to be + adjective. He had gone is the past perfect of the verb to go indicating that the going occurred before the sending. You could also use the past perfect of the verb to be, as in: By the time you sent me the email, I had been gone for twenty minutes to emphasise that the state began sometime before the sending of the email. – Shoe Feb 27 '12 at 11:07

Your sentences in fact contain two different verbs: to go and to be gone. The verb to go can be postmodified as in go home, go shopping, go to the beach, etc. But the verb to be gone (which has the meaning of disappear or not be there any more) cannot. So he was gone home is ungrammatical.

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  • Technically, the predicate is gone, and it's not a verb; predicate adjectives generate a verb be; but you're on the right track. It's a different predicate, with different syntax. – John Lawler Feb 25 '12 at 21:02
  • Changed the question a little bit. Could you elaborate on what the difference between the simple past and past perfect is in this context. – Noah Feb 25 '12 at 21:22
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    They're not the same predicate -- as we both just said -- so any difference in tense is irrelevant. If you have examples differing only in tense, it's worth answering that question; otherwise, not. – John Lawler Feb 25 '12 at 22:03
  • @John Lawler, you're right. It would have been more accurate to say that the two verbs in question here are be and go. – Shoe Feb 26 '12 at 5:43
  • Yeah, they're the tense carriers, hence the verbs. But the predicate is the meaningful part, and be is as automatic and meaningless as the It in It's raining. As a semanticist, I go for the predicate first, and let the verbs fall where they may. – John Lawler Feb 26 '12 at 17:08

The first sentence:

By the time you sent me the email, I was gone home.

is grammatically incorrect. In English, you can say either "I was gone" or "I was home" but not "I was gone home". This is because the verb was followed by either home or gone represents the place where the speaker is. That is, the speaker was somewhere. To say was gone home incorrectly uses was.

The second sentence is in correct simple past perfect form, and is grammatical.

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  • Okay when we change it to : By the time you sent me the email, I was home. What will be the difference between this and the past perfect form? – Noah Feb 25 '12 at 20:48

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