I have been wondering for a while about "been to" vs "gone to" in the past pefect and unreal conditionals.

I always thought that we use been to describe completed visits. For example, if we have visited a place and then returned we have been there. If someone visits a place but has not come home they have gone there.

But what about "had gone to" in the past perfect and unreal conditionals? I have a feeling that "had gone to" can have a meaning "went to place and then returned". I have encountered it in this meaning many times. Examples from COCA:

I had gone to school in three different states since first grade: upstate New York; Nashville, Tennessee; and now California.

He had gone to school, gone to law school, joined the police force, had used up most of his life unaware that what he really wanted to do.

You would think that my dad had gone to college, says Dave, but this is not so, as yet. He wanted to go to college, but a war intervened.

Most of the examples seem to be related to education. But I was recently watching the movie "Baywatch" amd one of the characters, a former Olympic swimmer, says at one point:

If it wasn't for that pool [in my foster home], I probably wouldn't have gone to the Olympics.

I tried to change "gone" to "been" in all these sentences and it just doesn't seem right.

Is this use really common? Are there any rules about it? Why do grammar textbooks not mention anything about this?

1 Answer 1


The perfect tenses (past or present) imply some completed action occurred before some other event and has some relevance to it.

"to go" in general implies motion or a process; thus in the perfect tenses it implies a completed action with continuing relevance. The continuing relevance can in some cases imply the subject has not returned

But not always:

I have gone to England every summer for the past ten years

The modifiers "every summer" and "for the past ten years" rule out the possibility that the subject has not returned (you can't go somewhere you already are).

I tried to change "gone" to "been" in all these sentences and it just doesn't seem right.

Been to actually works in those sentences but gone to seems more natural. Using "been" also seems to shift the meaning slightly in someways.

"had gone to law school" for instance seems to imply completion more than "had been to law school" would.

Is this use really common?

I think your concept of contrasting gone to with been to is too strict. Yes, been to implies somewhere you are no longer (because perfects represent a completed action), but gone to doesn't always mean you are no longer there. It can depending on the context.

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