So I heard this sentence and also few contradictions about that. Does it mean that when they entered, he was already gone because he had there been before them? Or he just was there before them and still is..

3 Answers 3


It looks as if something has been left out from this sentence, the meaning isn't clear as it is. It would look natural like this:

When we entered, we realised he had already been there.(Meaning: he went there and left before we did.)

I suppose it is the choice of the verbs used in the initial sentence that doesn't make the meaning clear. If you want to express that he was there before we went to the particular place, then you should say "When we entered he had already arrived" or "When we entered he was already there."

  • 1
    The missing part could also be a duration: When we entered, he had been there for ten minutes already. That wouldn't require rearranging the sentence to make it sound natural.
    – MT_Head
    Jun 19, 2012 at 8:35
  • 1
    I was having difficulty deciphering whether this was past perfect or past perfect continuous myself. The problem I have always had with the word "had" is it always seems somewhat vague without context. Perhaps I need lessons as well. Although I believe anyone who attempts to speak this language is doomed.
    – user19589
    Jun 19, 2012 at 8:35
  • @MT_Head: Good point, it didn't occur to me.
    – Irene
    Jun 19, 2012 at 8:39
  • On the other hand, that mystery could be useful if it is intended. I need context with my captain crunch. Actually, I may go grab some cereal and hit the blanket show.
    – user19589
    Jun 19, 2012 at 8:48

In general any place that you have been to is a place where you no longer are. So:

  • I've been to the bank

implies I went the bank and am now back. Similarly:

  • I've been there

implies that I am no longer wherever there is.

If, however, a time adverbial is added to the sentence, then the verb to be probably no longer has the meaning of going to and returning from a place but simply of being in a place. In such a case,

  • When we arrived, he had been there for 10 minutes

is, by itself, ambiguous. It could mean he was still there, or that he had been there and was now gone - although the former is more likely.

  • I'm not sure the second meaning of your last example is even possible. It would have to be something like we realized he had previously been there for ten minutes, precisely because of the time clause. Jun 30, 2012 at 22:12

The statement on its own is ambiguous, but it read to me as when we entered, we saw evidence that he had been there but was now gone. That's how I would read it without further information.

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