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I have have been reading about the present perfect and come across this example on this page. First have a look at the example and then find my question below, please.

The Martin family are on holiday in North America. Here are their travel plans:

Monday – am Niagara Falls, Canada. pm Fly to New York City.

Tuesday – New York City

Wednesday pm.– Arrive in Washington

Thursday - Washington

Friday– am Fly to Boston

It’s Wednesday morning. Are the sentences true or false?

[The Martin family have already (been) to Washington.]

[The Martin family have not yet been to Boston.]

[The Martin family have visited New York City.]

Let's suppose it is Wednesday evening (not morning). How do we differentiate between:

  1. Yes, they have; which means they have arrived and they are there now which I think is what the authors would write if it was Wednesday evening, and
  2. Yes, they have; which means they have gone and come back as in:

Have they been to Washington? Yes, they have.

Some related information:

  • An interesting answer to the question: Have been to/have been in a place
  • A Youtube video of an English teacher teaching the present perfect tense with verb to be: The verb "be" in the present perfect tense: have been. Clicking on the link takes you directly at 2m:53s where he uses this example: The have been in Washington since Monday.
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    The answer to "Have they been to Washington?" when you know that they are there now, is not "Yes, they have" It's something along the lines of: Well, yes, they're actually there now." – Jim Dec 11 '13 at 5:48
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    Yes, you are correct- have already been is used when they've gone and returned. You may say, "They've gone to Washington. which is fine to use when they're still there. – Jim Dec 11 '13 at 6:06
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    No, to is correct- you go (as in travel) to a city, you don't go in a city. I also would have used has instead of have since while a family contains multiple people, family itself is singular. The Martin family has already been to Washington. – Jim Dec 11 '13 at 7:35
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    That's a little different- now been in means been staying in. But is not equivalent to already been to Washington.: been to means visited – Jim Dec 11 '13 at 8:03
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    @learner I believe that you can use "they have been in X since ..." to hint that they went there and are still there. However, "they have been to X" is quite idiomatic, with the meaning: they went there and back, in short, they visited there. Because this idiomatic use, I believe that if a native speaker heard "they have been in X" without any specific context (such as "since ..."), they would think you meant they visited X, stayed in X for a while, and back. – Damkerng T. Dec 11 '13 at 8:27
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Restatement of the Question

I'm going to restate your question in the following way... (I'll explain why by the end of the post.)

As of Wednesday evening, how would a fluent speaker answer each of the following questions:

  1. Has the Martin family been to Washington yet?
  2. Has the Martin family been to Boston yet?
  3. Has the Martin family been to New York City yet?

Short Answer

I would answer those questions in the following way:

  1. The Martin family is currently in Washington.
  2. Not yet.
  3. Yes, they have.

Long Answer

The key is that whenever you ask if someone has completed an activity that has a duration, there are really three possible answers:

Yes. [The person has completed the activity.]

Not yet. [The person hasn't started the activity.]

They're doing it now. [The person has started the activity but hasn't finished.]

Asking if someone "has been" somewhere yet is asking about an activity with a duration -- the activity starts when the person arrives and finishes when the person leaves. People will normally distinguish between the three possible situations (hasn't started, started but not finished, finished) in their answer.

The result is that it's hard to say whether the statement "the Martin family has been to Washington" is true or false, since it's a little of both, which is why I suggested restating your question the way I did.

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+100

The Martini family is due to arrive in Washington on Wednesday afternoon. We have this information, we know their plans. We also know that they are staying in Washington on Thursday, and flying to Boston on Friday.

It is Wednesday morning. A friend asks me:

Are the Martini family in Washington (yet)?

Me: No, not yet. They must be still on the plane

Therefore, the Martini family are not in Washington.

Wednesday evening. The same friend could ask three questions:

1) Are the Martini family in Washington (yet)?

2) Have the Martini family arrived in Washington?*

3) Have the Martini family been to Washington?

My answers:

1) Yes, they are. They arrived this afternoon. OR

1) Yes, they are already in Washington.

2) Yes, they have. They arrived in the afternoon.

3) They're still in Washington, they're staying for two days but they're flying to Boston on Friday morning.

Therefore, the family Martini are in Washington.

It is early Friday afternoon. A different friend asks me:

1) Are the Martini family in Washington?

2) Have the Martini family arrived in Washington?*

3) Have the Martini family been to Washington?

My answers:

1) No, they aren't.

2) Yes, that was on Wednesday. They're going to Boston now. I don't know if they've arrived yet.

3) Yes, they went on Wednesday and stayed two nights there. They should be on their way to Boston now. I don't know what time their flight lands.

Therefore, (on Friday) the family Martini are not in Washington. they are travelling to a different destination. In other words, they have been to Washington.

Some speakers will also say: "The family have gone to Washington." This is considered ungrammatical or careless by some. The past participle of the verb be should be used in cases such as these, when we want to express that someone has gone to a destination and is either coming back home or going to a different place.

Been is used to describe completed visits. If somebody has been to Washington twice, he or she has travelled there and back twice. If somebody has gone to Washington, he or she has not yet returned.

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"They have been" means they was there and they are not there now. It is the Perfect Tense. Prefect has the sense "finished" here.

Not to mix with the Prefect Continuous Tense!

They have been doing something till now.

They are still doing it now.

In your example the verb "be" in its form "been" is a main verb, and in the "have been doing" it is a service verb.

So, we can't say "They have been to Washington" at Wednesday evening yet. You say, "They are in Washington" instead.

Also, look at this post on EL&U.

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