I've been to London vs I was in London

tigerduck

Senior Member
German / Switzerland
Hello

One of my students has asked why it is I have been to London and I was in London.

It is not possible to say I have been in London, is it?

Thanks
 
  • timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Hello

    One of my students has asked why it is I have been to London and I was in London.

    It is not possible to say I have been in London, is it?

    Thanks
    Yes - it is!:)

    Since "I have been" is the perfect tense of both "to be" and "to go" it simply depends if "I have been in London" is a reflex of "to go to London" or "to be in London".
     

    Sharivan

    Member
    Brazil / Portuguese
    Yes - it is!:)

    Since "I have been" is the perfect tense of both "to be" and "to go" it simply depends if "I have been in London" is a reflex of "to go to London" or "to be in London".


    As far as I know, the answer lies in the difference in use between 'Present Perfect' and 'Simple Past'.

    There's no problem in saying "I was in London (yesterday/last year/on July 18th, 1981/some hours ago,etc)" if you do mention when, the time or date when it took place. On the other hand, if you want just to state that you were in London, not informing when, you can certainly say "I've been to London". A small dialogue as a sample would be:

    - "Have you ever been to London?"
    - "Yes, I have. I went to London at the beginning of last year and returned 5 months later"

    Particular attention has to be paid to:

    - "They've been to London": it means they were in London and now they're back.
    - "They've gone to London": it means they went to London and they are still over there.

    That's my view on the question. Comments, suggestions, feelings, let us know, please :) .
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Rereading what I wrote above it's probably a bit confusing. The perfect of "to go" is "to have gone", of course. What I meant was that "I have been" can be used with the meaning of "to go" or "to be", and the preposition will follow the meaning. So

    I've been in London for 3 years and love it (= "to be" as can be seen by the fact that in the past you would say "I was in London for 3 years and loved it")
    I've been to London for my holidays (= "to go", you could also say "I went to London for my holidays). Here, as Sharivan says, you wouldn't say "I've gone to London for my holidays" unless you were still there (and speaking to someone back home by telephone perhaps).
     

    loladamore

    Senior Member
    English UK
    You can say I have been in London in certain contexts, but I don't think it can stand on its own.
    I have been swimming in London would be fine or a phrase expressing time, such as I have been in London for some time now. In most other cases it would be I have been to or I was in London.

    EDIT: I have just seen Tim's post - I agree.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I've been to London for my holidays (= "to go", you could also say "I went to London for my holidays). Here, as Sharivan says, you wouldn't say "I've gone to London for my holidays" unless you were still there (and speaking to someone back home by telephone perhaps).
    I just want to clarify that the above applies to British English. It does not reflect American English usage.

    In American English, "I've been to London" is simply a statement of whether I have ever set foot in London.

    "I've been to London three times." There have been three such occasions.

    For the scenarios described by Tim, you would say "I went to London for the holidays," and "I am in London for the holidays," respectively.
     

    waterman

    Member
    Spain Spanish
    Hi, Timpeac

    I have been to London means that Iwent to London but now I'm back at home. is that Ok?

    I have been in London is not correct. OK?

    And finally, what about: I have been in London for 3 years?

    Thank you,

    Waterman
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Hi, Timpeac

    I have been to London means that Iwent to London but now I'm back at home. is that Ok?

    I have been in London is not correct. OK?

    And finally, what about: I have been in London for 3 years?

    Thank you,

    Waterman

    As Ioladamore said, you can say "I have been in London" in certain contexts.

    Refer to her post.
     

    effeundici

    Senior Member
    Italian - Tuscany
    NEW QUESTION

    There's something very unusual to me in the form "I've been to". Usually the perfect tense conveys actions which are still in progress.

    So I perfectly accept : I've been in London for 3 years meaning that you are still there. But I've been to London and you are in Rome, for example, surely describes an action which is over. That sounds strange to me.

    What's your view?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Your examples use different beens! The first one is from be and the second one is from go. I've been to Rome and I've been to London. Those describe times when I went to vist. Indeed, those are in the past, completed actions?

    I've been in California for over 30 years. This means my being has happened here for that time.
     

    effeundici

    Senior Member
    Italian - Tuscany
    Hi Julian, thanks for answering.

    Your answer is very useful because it conveys a lot about what you natives "feel" when you utter those "beens". But grammatically, does it make any sense?? :D

    Your examples use different beens! The first one is from be and the second one is from go. I've been to Rome and I've been to London. Those describe times when I went to vist. Indeed, those are in the past, completed actions?

    I've been in California for over 30 years. This means my being has happened here for that time.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Hi Julian, thanks for answering.

    Your answer is very useful because it conveys a lot about what you natives "feel" when you utter those "beens". But grammatically, does it make any sense?? :D
    You mean "does it make sense that the same 4 letters can mean two different things?". It makes as much sense as the fact that mean can mean different things too :):)
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    It may help if you image

    I was in London = I stayed in London
    I have been to London = I have visited London
    I went to London = I travelled to London
    I have gone to London = I have travelled to London (and I'm still there)
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Hi Julian, thanks for answering.

    Your answer is very useful because it conveys a lot about what you natives "feel" when you utter those "beens". But grammatically, does it make any sense?? :D
    One could always say: I have gone to London. (From "go to") But then this sentence means either that you are on the way to London or you are already in London. Your trip to London has not finished yet.
    I have been to London. Your trip is over. You are back.
    Remember that:
    "Be" as a 'position' verb takes the preposition "in."
    "Go" as a 'movement' verb takes the preposition "to."
    So "I've been in California for 30 years" means that I am still there.
     
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    effeundici

    Senior Member
    Italian - Tuscany
    One could always say: I have gone to London. (From "go to") But then this sentence means either that you are on the way to London or you are already in London. Your trip to London has not finished yet.
    I have been to London. Your trip is over. You are back.

    This is exactly what seems strange to me. I've been to is the only perfect tense I m familiar with which describes so clearly an action which is finished.

    I even foud someone in the Internet who wrote : I've been to London when I was like 3
     

    P|O

    Member
    Hello, effeundici!
    I've been to is the only perfect tense I m familiar with which describes so clearly an action which is finished.
    "I've watched that movie" (and now I speak like a man from the moon), "You've eaten my apples" (and now there are none).

    I think, the usage of the Present Perfect perfectly makes sense here ("I've been to London, but now I live in Rome"). I mean, the Present Perfect tense describes a situation that now results from actions that took place before (for example, the person now knows what London is like). At least, it clearly does so when we use verbs expressing actions. When we use verbs expressing passive situations, states ("to be" and other ones, I'm sorry I can't think of many), the result of the fact, that the situation was taking place, is that the situation still holds ("He has been in London for 30 years" — and now he lives there).

    P|O :)
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    This is exactly what seems strange to me. I've been to is the only perfect tense I m familiar with which describes so clearly an action which is finished.

    I even foud someone in the Internet who wrote : I've been to London when I was like 3

    You can find pretty much anything on the Internet - that's why you come here to get help :D

    I am still unclear as to what specifically you find strange. There are many anomalies in English if your expectations are for a "logical", "one that makes complete sense" language. Is there something about this issue that is even stranger than the other "anomalies"?
     

    Uncle Bob

    Senior Member
    British English
    I even foud someone in the Internet who wrote : I've been to London when I was like 3
    One can find a lot of things on the internet which should be ignored. A (BE) pedant like myself would ask "When you were like 3 whats?":).
    ("I went to London when I was 3". "I was in London when I was 3" or, with some sort of punctuation to show a break, "I've been to London, when I was 3").
     

    BillyDinPVD

    Member
    English - US
    Agree with Uncle Bob. It reminds me of a similar tense substitution among some younger Spaniards, and wonder if it might mean the original writer isn't a native English speaker.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    This is exactly what seems strange to me. I've been to is the only perfect tense I m familiar with which describes so clearly an action which is finished.

    That's right, it is finished. It has taken place in your life. You have already stayed in London. You have already been there. I have no idea of when you went to London or how long you were/stayed there. Actually it is not important.

    The word "been" has the same meaning in these two sentences:
    1. I've been to London.
    AND
    2. I've been there.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Your examples use different beens! The first one is from be and the second one is from go. ...
    I wonder where come belongs. Besides gone, been can mean come (PP) e.g. The postman has already been to your house (has come, been and gone).
    ... I've been in California for over 30 years. This means my being has happened here for that time.
    Then: I've been to London in my life. This means what? :confused:
    A. My being to London has happened in my life.
    B. My being in London has happened in my life.
    C. My coming to London, being in London and going away from London has happened in my life.

    I think that means C. Come + be + go = visit.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I only use come when I am speaking at the destination of the coming. "My coming to London ... " is a phrase I would only use if I were actually in London. Otherwise "My going to London ..." if I am not in London.

    The postman has already been to your house (has come, been and gone).
    This only works if the speaker is in the house where the postman delivered the post. This is because of the word "come". "The postman has come (to my house) delivered the parcels and gone away again." That could easily be communicated to my wife "The postman's been - and he delivered your ebay purchases :D "
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I only use come when I am speaking at the destination of the coming. "My coming to London ... " is a phrase I would only use if I were actually in London. Otherwise "My going to London ..." if I am not in London.
    So "I've been to London in my life" means:
    D. My going to London has happened in my life. I am not in London when I say it.

    And when you still were in London could you have said, e.g.:
    1. This is the first time I've ever been to London.
    2. I've never been to London before.

    While reading this thread I noticed that one can say this:
    3a. I am in London. I was in London. Full stop. Am and was are forms of be which is a 'position verb.'
    But one cannot say:
    3b. I've been in London. Full stop.
    One has to say:
    3c. I've been in London for over 30 years or since year XXXX.
    Other 'position verbs', like: live, stay, stop, work, behave in the same way.

    What is interesting these sentences can stand on their own:
    4a. I went to London. I came to London. Full stop.
    4b. I've been to London. Full stop.
    4c. I've come to London. Full stop.
    This is because been and went are forms of go.
    Go and come belong to 'movement verbs' along with other verbs of this type like drive, fly, get, move, run and walk.

    Isn't this interesting?

    Edit: I forgot to mention that sometimes it is more appropriate to use the preposition 'at', which I think is sort of in-between 'to' and 'in' or 'out' and 'in.' (Although more often then not the preposition 'at' belongs to 'position' family together with 'in.' It makes me think of a chameleon. A truer in-between preposition is 'into.')
    Instead of saying:
    5. "I've never been to your place" it sounds better when we say "I've never been at your place."
    Although it is OK to say either:
    6. "I've never been to this restaurant. OR I've never been at this restaurant. OR I've never been in this restaurant.
    Compare: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=694022
     
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    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    It may well be, for someone to whom it is "new" but for a native speaker, it is simply normal and natural. To means direction, in means position. What seems to be interesting to you is the dual life of "been" :D

    I think it is triple (if you count "come") if not quadruple.
    Have a look at this:
    1a. I haven't been to this school.
    1b. I haven't been at this school today.
    1c. I haven't been in this school since XXXX.

    And this:
    2a. I haven't gone to school today.
    2b. My English teacher hasn't come to school today.
    2c. I haven't been to school today.
    2d. My English teacher hasn't been to school today.

    To means direction, in means position.
    I think that this is the key to this puzzle. :)
     

    Uncle Bob

    Senior Member
    British English
    I only use come when I am speaking at the destination of the coming. "My coming to London ... " is a phrase I would only use if I were actually in London. Otherwise "My going to London ..." if I am not in London.
    That rather depends on the context. If your correspondent is independent of the journey then sobeit. However, if they are somehow connected with the destination then one uses "coming" for the future visit:
    "Dear Auntie Mavis (who lives in London*), I am coming to London next week".

    It is a matter of seeing the journey from the other's point of view and it is, I agree, debatable whether "coming" here is an abbreviation for "coming in your direction" or suchlike.

    * If you are setting out from California then it would be the same if Auntie Mavis lived anywhere in Europe.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    That rather depends on the context. If your correspondent is independent of the journey then sobeit. However, if they are somehow connected with the destination then one uses "coming" for the future visit:
    "Dear Auntie Mavis (who lives in London*), I am coming to London next week". ...

    * If you are setting out from California then it would be the same if Auntie Mavis lived anywhere in Europe.
    Thank you for bringing this up, Uncle Bob. :)
    In other words:
    "I who live here in California, am coming to you, Auntie Mavis who live there in London. I'm coming (to you)/arriving next week."
    Talking about coming and going may pose a logical problem. However it is necessary because the chameleon can change its colour to match the surroundings ( in here or out there).
    It is a matter of seeing the journey from the other's point of view <Antie Mavis's point of view> and it is, I agree, debatable whether "coming" here <to London where she lives> is an abbreviation for "coming in your direction" or suchlike <e.g. arriving>.

    Originally Posted by JulianStuart
    I only use come when I am speaking at the destination of the coming. "My coming to London ... " is a phrase I would only use if I were actually in London.
    When you are physically in London you can say:
    I have come to London. OR This is the first time I have come to London. OR This is the first time I have been to London*. OR This is the first time I have been in London. OR I have never come to London before.
    Originally Posted by JulianStuart Otherwise "My going to London ..." if I am not in London.
    Therefore you cannot say while in London:
    I have gone to London (=I have left for London). OR I have been to London (I have left and come back again).

    *And here is an interesting situation. The preposition 'to' tells me that been = gone. But, because 'to' is also used by 'come', been must mean come. "This is ... " tells me the situation is in London, not in California.
    Compare: http://www.antimoon.com/forum/2004/4597.htm
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    That rather depends on the context. If your correspondent is independent of the journey then sobeit. However, if they are somehow connected with the destination then one uses "coming" for the future visit:
    "Dear Auntie Mavis (who lives in London*), I am coming to London next week".

    It is a matter of seeing the journey from the other's point of view and it is, I agree, debatable whether "coming" here is an abbreviation for "coming in your direction" or suchlike.

    * If you are setting out from California then it would be the same if Auntie Mavis lived anywhere in Europe.
    You are, of course, correct. I was simplifying the generalization for the discussion at hand. A conversation can consider "here" either from the speaker's or listener's viewpoint, as you have illlustrated (leading to all kinds of confusion around bring and take, as an off-topic aside!).

    If I were planning to go back to meet Auntie Mavis in London, and i were speaking on the phone from California, I would still say "I have not been to London for a while" rather than "I have not come to London for a while". In fact, it might go something like this "I have not been to London for a while, but if my plans work out, I'll be coming on the 18th".
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Edit: .....
    Instead of saying:
    5. "I've never been to your place" it sounds better when we say "I've never been at your place."
    Although it is OK to say either:
    6. "I've never been to this restaurant. OR I've never been at this restaurant. OR I've never been in this restaurant.
    Compare: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=694022
    I disagree with some of the posts in that thread you refer to. "i've never been at place X" is not somehing I would say nor would I expect it from a native English speaker (although apparently there are some who do!). So in 5 I would only ever use to. In 6, to is fine, and in expresses the though "I've walked past many times but never been in this reataurant." while at would be acceptable to me.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    In 6, to is fine, and in expresses the though <thought ?> "I've walked past many times but never been in this restaurant." while at would be acceptable to me.
    So it all depends on context.
    A. How about the Paradise? It's an Italian restaurant. (Making suggestions.)
    B. O.K. Let's go to the Paradise. I've never been to this restaurant.

    AA. The Paradise is well decorated and has beautiful interiors.
    BB. I've walked past many times but never been in this restaurant.

    (I'm not sure what to do with
    at. I know it is used with points, e.g. meeting points.)

    I disagree with some of the posts in that thread you refer to. "i've never been at place X" is not somehing I would say nor would I expect it from a native English speaker (although apparently there are some who do!). So in 5 I would only ever use to.

    Option 5. was based on the sentence "We had a great party. You should have been at my place." = "You should have been there" = "You should have come to my place" = "You should have come there." (http://I've been VS come and gone there )
    "You should have been to my place" doesn't fit in this situation because the inviting person can only say: "(I'm inviting you over.) Come to my place" and not "Go to my place."
    I think I again confused "going to somebody's place" with "coming to somebody's place".

    Yesterday as I was listening to "
    Practice and Progress: Drills" by L.G. Alexander I heard an interesting exchange:

    A:Weren't you there a month ago?
    B:Yes, I was there a month ago, but I had never been there before.
    ...
    A:Wasn't he in Vienna a month ago?
    B:Yes, he was in Vienna a month ago, but he had never been in Vienna before.

    So one can say "I have never been in London before" if they mean "being in London."
    And if one means "visiting London = going to London and coming back" then they should say "I have never been to London before."

    I think I got it.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    So it all depends on context.:tick:

    ...A:Wasn't he in Vienna a month ago?
    B:Yes, he was in Vienna a month ago, but he had never been in Vienna before.

    So one can say "I have never been in London before" if they mean "being in London."
    And if one means "visiting London = going to London and coming back" then they should say "I have never been to London before."

    I think I got it.

    I would still use "to" in that example. However, I might conceivably say, in parallel with the restaurant example above, "He had visited the suburbs frequently but had never been in Vienna proper before" - emphasis of the contrast between just outside city limits and inside city limits could warrant the use of "in". However, I would still likely say : "He had visited the suburbs frequently but had never been into Vienna proper before" :D
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Have you ever been in Rio de Janeiro at Carnival time? = Have you ever been present in Rio during Carnival time?

    I find this a reasonable sentence. If I say "been to" it suggests the entire visit took place during the carnival. But the person may have been there for months before. It corresponds with:
    Did you see the Carnival?
    No, I wasn't in Rio at the time.
     
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    Lecword

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    So one can say "I have never been in London before" if they mean "being in London."
    And if one means "visiting London = going to London and coming back" then they should say "I have never been to London before."

    I think I got it.


    So I could say...

    a) I have never been in London.

    b) I have never been to London.


    In a) I mean that it is the first time I am in London and I am still there.
    In b) I mean that I am in other city.

    Is this correct? :confused:

    And if I am asking a question? Would it be...

    Have you ever been to London? OR
    Have you ever been in London? ?

    Thank you very much
     

    WordsWordWords

    Senior Member
    Am English
    Hi Lecword,

    I use the preposition "to" with verbs indicating movement. In the case of "been", though it is the past participle of "to be", it is used your example sentence to indicate going to a place and then returning.

    I would use "in" to indicate more of a state, such as "I have lived/worked in London for 3 years."

    Hope that helps!
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    So I could say...

    a) I have never been in London.

    b) I have never been to London.

    In a) I mean that it is the first time I am in London and I am still there.
    If it is your first time in London (which means you are still in London), you cannot say 'I have never been in London.'
    But you can say 'I have never been in London before (this visit).' and someone can ask you 'Have you ever been in London before?'
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    One could always say: I have gone to London. (From "go to") But then this sentence means either that you are on the way to London or you are already in London. Your trip to London has not finished yet.
    I disagree. I've never gone to London, but I've gone to Glasgow quite a few times, and I am neither still there (I'm in Connecticut) nor am I on my way there or back (the last time I was in Glasgow was in 1992).
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I think my explanation suits this dialogue:

    A: Is Anna in?
    B: No, she isn't.
    A: Where is she?
    B: She's gone to London again. She loves shopping in Harrods.

    We don't know if Anna has already arrived in London.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I agree with wolfbm1.

    "Where is Anna? She's gone to London." This seems fine to me.

    "I've gone to London 3 times in my life" seems completely unidiomatic to me (I'm not necessarily saying it is ungrammatical, but I can't imagine it being said).

    For the "I've never been in London" question - again this seems completely unidiomatic to me. Even in answering the question "Where are you right now? Are you in London?" I would answer "No, I'm in New York, I've never even been to London" not "I've never even gone to London" and also not "I've never even been in London".
     
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