Where were you vs Where have you been

  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    As short questions asked of me as I walk in the door, there is no difference.

    Where were you could be expanded into a more complex question.
    Where were you when the storm began.

    You can't do that with Where have you been.
     

    Esca

    Senior Member
    ATX
    USA - English
    To put it simply,

    "Where were you?" = "Where were you at a specific point in time (in the past)?"

    "Where have you been?" = "Where were you over a period of time (in the past)?"

    As you can see, they are often interchangeable.

    For example, if a teenager comes home late, the parents might ask "Where were you?" to ask if the he was spending time somewhere he shouldn't have been, and why he didn't come home instead. They might also ask "Where have you been?" if they were angry that the he was gone so long, and to ask what he was doing, where he was, and why he didn't come home instead.
     

    dihydrogen monoxide

    Senior Member
    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    I've just remembered, don't you think it sounds weird if I say Where have you been on 3rd of July, you never hear Where have you been in the court of law.
    I think it has to do with present perfect and past tense. When you don't know the time you use present perfect and when you do you use past tense. So maybe if you don't know when you've come home, maybe, then, if I'm not wrong, you could use Where have you been. I certainly can't use Where have you been on mm/dd/yy?
    P.S. What happened to other replies on this thread?
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I've just remembered, don't you think it sounds weird if I say Where have you been on 3rd of July, you never hear Where have you been in the court of law.
    I think it has to do with present perfect and past tense. When you don't know the time you use present perfect and when you do you use past tense. So maybe if you don't know when you've come home, maybe, then, if I'm not wrong, you could use Where have you been. I certainly can't use Where have you been on mm/dd/yy?
    Isn't that what others have said above?
    Perhaps not.

    Where were you?
    Where have you been?

    Both are perfectly acceptable questions to ask someone who has just arrived.

    The first form can be expanded to specify a time or time period:
    Where were you when I needed you?
    Where were you on 23rd July?

    That can't be done with the second form.
    P.S. What happened to other replies on this thread?
    There is no evidence of there having been any other replies on this thread.
     

    dihydrogen monoxide

    Senior Member
    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    Isn't that what others have said above?
    Perhaps not.

    Where were you?
    Where have you been?
    Both are perfectly acceptable questions to ask someone who has just arrived.

    The first form can be expanded to specify a time or time period:
    Where were you when I needed you?
    Where were you on 23rd July?
    That can't be done with the second form.
    There is no evidence of there having been any other replies on this thread.

    Delete my remark about threads, my bad.
     

    katie_here

    Senior Member
    England/English
    When I first read the question, the difference to me was of accusation and query.

    Accusatory "Where were you?" ("I've been looking for you all day", "I wanted you and you weren't here", "I've been calling you and you didn't come")

    Querying "Where have you been" ("What have you done today", "Did you go to the shops", "Did you go to work? "Did you go to the seaside?")

    I think they can be a dfferent, but I also think they can mean the same thing. It all depends on the context and what tone of voice you are using when asking.
     
    Last edited:

    m0nchichi

    Senior Member
    Sorry for digging up this old thread but I also have problems with these two phrases. I've learned that I should not use the present perfect when referring to a specific time in the past but I've heard it used with a specific time, e.g. 'What have you been doing all day yesterday ?' or 'What have you been doing last week?' etc. Is it right to use it that way if it conveys a positive mood?
     

    m0nchichi

    Senior Member
    I wouldn't say either of those. "What have you been doing lately?" "What have you been doing all week?"

    Let's say you wanted to meet up with someone yesterday but you couldn't reach him, wouldn't the right question be " Where have you been yesterday" or "Where were you yesterday"? (as in, you seemed to be off the radar, no one could reach you, what have you been doing /were you doing)
     

    m0nchichi

    Senior Member
    Where were you yesterday?:tick:
    Where have you been yesterday?:cross:

    And that is where I can't get my head around. There seems to be no consensus on these phrases.

    My wife says you can use both, but one sounds more rude than the other. I asked in another forum and they said the same. One person also said that both are interchangable. Then, another person in another forum said you can't use them interchangeably because one needs a specific time and the other doesn't. So what's the deal with these constructions?
     

    sagar grammar

    Senior Member
    Let's say you wanted to meet up with someone yesterday but you couldn't reach him, wouldn't the right question be " Where have you been yesterday" or "Where were you yesterday"? (as in, you seemed to be off the radar, no one could reach you, what have you been doing /were you doing)


    See post #4.
    .
    If you want to express time. Don't use present perfect.
    Because the past time needs to be used in past indefinite.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    My wife says you can use both
    Should we infer that your wife is a native speaker of English, or is omniscient in some other way?

    For the purposes of school exercises, you must not use the present perfect tense with "yesterday". However this is a guideline for learners. Native speakers are normally more concerned about the time frame referred to than about any accompanying adverb. In some contexts, "yesterday" can be a past time period continuing to the present and so can attract the present perfect continuous. In some contexts we can discuss the present state of our experience, and so use the present perfect simple, but mention by the way that the experience was gained yesterday.
     
    Last edited:

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    And that is where I can't get my head around. There seems to be no consensus on these phrases.

    My wife says you can use both, but one sounds more rude than the other. I asked in another forum and they said the same. One person also said that both are interchangable. Then, another person in another forum said you can't use them interchangeably because one needs a specific time and the other doesn't. So what's the deal with these constructions?
    Far be it from me to fuel an argument between you and your wife, but 'the deal' here is that you cannot use the perfect tense with an expression of finished time in the past such as "yesterday".

    You can say "Where have you been all this time?" which could, and probably would, sound quite rude.
    But you have to say "Where were you yesterday?" using the simple past.
     

    m0nchichi

    Senior Member
    The thing is, one sounds more rude but the other can't be used with a specific time. That means you are forced to use the rude version 'where were you yesterday' which makes it sound like a cross-examination but you also shouldn't use that without an action that happened at the same time, e.g. 'Where were you yesterday when I tried to call you'. Do you know understand where I'm getting from? What should I say then? What did you do yesterday? That sounds odd to me in the context where one was expecting the other person to show up, say, at work but they didn't. I feel strongly inclined to say ' Where were you yesterday? We missed you at work' or 'Hey man where have you been all day yesterday? We all missed at work'. And I think I feel so inclined to these constructions because I've heard them before.
     

    m0nchichi

    Senior Member
    Far be it from me to fuel an argument between you and your wife, but 'the deal' here is that you cannot use the perfect tense with an expression of finished time in the past such as "yesterday".

    You can say "Where have you been all this time?" which could, and probably would, sound quite rude.
    But you have to say "Where were you yesterday?" using the simple past.

    This is what another native speaker answered in a different forum:

    "Where have you been yesterday?" is grammatical, but could be construed as being very impolite. When I asked a colleague (and friend) a similar question, I got the answer: "I went to see a man about a dog." (Mind your own business.) She later told me that she had been for a pregnancy test.


    I'm extremely confused...

    If we don't refer to a specific time, we should use the present perfect 'Wher have you been' but this suggests, for example, that the person asking was waiting for the other person whereas 'where were you' just simply asks' what did you do today'. But 'where were you' could also sound rude, and it's wrong without further context but people still say it here in the US.
     
    Last edited:

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    The thing is, one sounds more rude but the other can't be used with a specific time. That means you are forced to use the rude version 'where were you yesterday' which makes it sound like a cross-examination but you also shouldn't use that without an action that happened at the same time,...
    No: I think you're confusing the tone of the question (whether it's rude or not) with the correct tense to use.

    A teacher might ask one of his pupils "Where were you yesterday? I noticed you were missing from class".
    The pupil might reply: "Oh, I was off sick, but I'm better now".
    None of that is rude.

    Alternatively I could say to my friend who'd gone shopping: "Hey, you were gone ages - where have you been?"
    And he might reply: "Oh, I bumped into Paul at the supermarket and we got talking.
    Again, that isn't rude, either.

    It all depends on what you say and how you say it, but you need to use the correct tenses. :)
     

    m0nchichi

    Senior Member
    No: I think you're confusing the tone of the question (whether it's rude or not) with the correct tense to use.

    A teacher might ask one of his pupils "Where were you yesterday? I noticed you were missing from class".
    The pupil might reply: "Oh, I was off sick, but I'm better now".
    None of that is rude.

    Alternatively I could say to my friend who'd gone shopping: "Hey, you were gone ages - where have you been?"
    And he might reply: "Oh, I bumped into Paul at the supermarket and we got talking.
    Again, that isn't rude, either.

    It all depends on what you say and how you say it, but you need to use the correct tenses. :)

    I edited my last post. Could you comment on that as well? I've heard people say 'where were you' without giving more detail or a specific time. The confusion is more about the tenses itself than them being rude/polite.

    For example :

    Person A leaves work to get lunch and didn't notify person B. When person A is back person B might say 'Where were you??' because person B was looking for them or just wondering where person A went. In such cases, should I use the present perfect or the simple past? To me, 'where have you been' sounds more questioning and gives the impression that someone was waiting on me whereas 'where were you' just sounds more like 'I'm curious because normally you don't leave for lunch that early' or something like that.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Person A leaves work to get lunch and didn't notify person B. When person A is back person B might say 'Where were you??' because person B was looking for them or just wondering where person A went. In such cases, should I use the present perfect or the simple past? To me, 'where have you been' sounds more questioning and gives the impression that someone was waiting on me whereas 'where were you' just sounds more like 'I'm curious because normally you don't leave for lunch that early' or something like that.
    This one I think depends as much as anything else on the context, and there are situations where you could use either. For example
    "Hey, I was looking for you earlier, because your wife rang while you were at lunch. Where were you?" (= Where were you at the time your wife rang).
    ""Hey, I was looking for you earlier, because your wife rang while you were at lunch. Where have you been?" (= You have only just got back, having been gone a long time).
     

    m0nchichi

    Senior Member
    This one I think depends as much as anything else on the context, and there are situations where you could use either. For example
    "Hey, I was looking for you earlier, because your wife rang while you were at lunch. Where were you?" (= Where were you at the time your wife rang).
    ""Hey, I was looking for you earlier, because your wife rang while you were at lunch. Where have you been?" (= You have only just got back, having been gone a long time).

    So there has to be some context behind it? I couldn't just ask out of the blue "where were you"? If I'm just interested in what they did what should I say? "What did you do yesterday?"
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    So there has to be some context behind it? I couldn't just ask out of the blue "where were you"? If I'm just interested in what they did what should I say? "What did you do yesterday?"
    Virtually everything has to have some context behind it: you can't just go up to a random stranger in the street and ask "Where were you?" :eek:

    But you could certainly ask a friend or workmate "What did you do yesterday?" if you had some reason for asking, even if it was only idle curiosity.
     

    m0nchichi

    Senior Member
    :tick:
    Virtually everything has to have some context behind it: you can't just go up to a random stranger in the street and ask "Where were you?" :eek:

    But you could certainly ask a friend or workmate "What did you do yesterday?" if you had some reason for asking, even if it was only idle curiosity.

    I'm aware that I couldn't ask that a stranger

    Thank you for your help!
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I watched a movie. A family were having a great time on the beach and at some point the son went to the bathroom, not telling the parents that he was going there. When mum realizes the son is missing, she panics, runs around the beach like crazy and then she notices the son approaching them, coming back from the bathroom. She runs up to him and yells "Where were you?". Now, wouldn't it be more natural to have yelled "Where have you been?" as there is a clear reference to the present? Or perhaps that's AE and in BrE one for sure would use the present perfect?
     

    Attachments

    • mum.jpg
      mum.jpg
      80.2 KB · Views: 739

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    No, not emphasis. A difference of tense denotes a difference in perspective, timewise.

    Where have you been? (present perfect – perspective is now)
    Where were you [when I was looking for you]? (simple past – perspective is a time now passed)
     

    le avocado

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Where have you been? (present perfect – perspective is now)
    Where were you [when I was looking for you]? (simple past – perspective is a time now passed)
    Where have you been? (present perfect – perspective is now)
    ==>This means we are talking about the present, and the effect of the absence of the boy on the present. Is it right?

    Where were you [when I was looking for you]? (simple past – perspective is a time now passed)
    ==>This means we are talking about only the past.Is it right?
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Where have you been? (present perfect – perspective is now)
    ==>This means we are talking about the present, and the effect of the absence of the boy on the present. Is it right?
    I don’t think so. The present perfect tense has two common senses.
    1) to evoke a present consequence of the past action
    2) to place the action in a period of past time that continued to the present.

    #25 is clearly an example of 2). The question is not expecting the answer “I went to Paris when I was 5 and Hanoi when I was 8. These experiences made me the person I am”.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I would say half the time "Where have you been?" is basically rhetorical and stands in for the idea "I was/I have been so worried about you."

    A typical dialogue might go like this:
    Mother after, perhaps frantically, looking for her child.

    Mother: Where have you been? I was worried sick.
    Child: I was over on the playground.
    Mother: Well don't ever do that again (i.e. wander away).

    She doesn't really care that the child was on the playground. She only cares that the child has been found.

    "Where were you?" to me, seems like more of a real question.

    It's even true with adults.

    A to B: Where have you been? You're late. We almost had to start without you.

    A doesn't really care where B was, at least at that moment. "Where have you been" = "I can't believe you're late." or "Why are you late? You know how important this is."
     
    Last edited:

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Here is an expanded version of #31, which I hope will be more comprehensible.

    Where have you been? (present perfect – perspective is now)
    ==>This means we are talking about the present, and the effect of the absence of the boy on the present. Is it right?
    I don’t think so. The present perfect tense has two common senses.
    1) (as you say,) to evoke a present consequence of the past action
    2) to place the action in a period of past time that continued to the present.

    In #25 the son has been missing for a period, and the mother asks “Where have you been”?
    This is clearly an example of 2).
    1) The question is not expecting the answer “I went to Paris when I was 5 and Hanoi when I was 8. These experiences made me the person I am”.
    2) Instead, the mother is asking for an explanation of where the son was during the period when he was missing, which is (perceived as, or a large part of) a period of past time that continued to the present.
     

    le avocado

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    After reading your explanations,
    I came to a conclusion:
    If I think of the absence of the boy as an action belongs to only the past, I will use simple past.
    If I think of the absence of the boy as an action from the past and just completed until now ( the mom has found the boy), I will use the present perfect.

    It is just a matter of perspective of the speaker who says that sentence about the action ("past action" or "from the past until now and just finished"), and the perspective of each speaker is different from each other, so the chose of which sentence to say is different among speakers .

    Is my opinion correct?


    1) The question is not expecting the answer “I went to Paris when I was 5 and Hanoi when I was 8. These experiences made me the person I am”.
    Did you mean that the question "where have you been?"can be asked in situation as #25 and it also can be used to ask of someone's experiences of traveling, which means they want to know which locations, countries... have you been from you was born until now. Is it right?



    I would say half the time "Where have you been?" is basically rhetorical and stands in for the idea "I was/I have been so worried about you."
    I am not a native speaker, but I have the feeling that this explaination makes sense too.
     
    Last edited:

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    After reading your explanations,
    I came to a conclusion:
    If I think of the absence of the boy as an action belongs to only the past, I will use simple past.
    If I think of the absence of the boy as an action from the past and just completed until now ( the mom has found the boy), I will use the present perfect.

    It is just a matter of perspective of the speaker who says that sentence about the action ("past action" or "from the past until now and just finished"), and the perspective of each speaker is different from each other, so the chose of which sentence to say is different among speakers .

    Is my opinion correct?
    Yes. And you’re right to take on board kentix’s point too, about the context/nuance:

    Where have you been? (I’ve been so worried about you!)
    — Not a rhetorical question as such, but more an expression of relief than an urgent enquiry.
    Where were you? (I didn’t know where you’d gone!)
    — A slightly more direct question, calling for an answer to “where?”.

    The present perfect is also used to refer to actions ever done, or states that were ever the case, in the past, but that’s irrelevant to its use in the context of a current/recent incident.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Where have you been? (I’ve been so worried about you!)
    — Not a rhetorical question as such, but more an expression of relief than an urgent enquiry.
    Where were you? (I didn’t know where you’d gone!)
    — A slightly more direct question, calling for an answer to “where?”.
    :thumbsup:
     
    Top