How should I answer the question "where have you been"? Should a possible reply be "I've been cleaning the garden." or "I was cleaning the garden."? I mean should I use 'present perfect tense' or 'past tense'?

Note that I have just finished cleaning the garden.

  • 1
    What makes you think must use either?
    – Lambie
    Aug 22, 2019 at 15:58

3 Answers 3


"I have been cleaning the garden." and "I was cleaning the garden" are both acceptable, but neither one is present perfect or simple past. "I have been cleaning the garden." is Past Perfect Continuous, and "I was cleaning the garden." is Past Continuous.


Consider that neither of your given responses directly answers the question of where you have been. A direct answer would be, "In the garden." Instead, you have (correctly) assumed that the question implies more knowledge than simply your prior location. For example, why were you there?

If you understand what kind of information the question is intended to gather, then almost any answer that gives that information will be seen as correct.

I just finished cleaning the garden.

I was at the bank.

I was playing with my son at the park.

I did my homework then took out the trash.

I had to go to the dentist.

They are all perfectly acceptable responses (depending on the context), even though the tenses might not match up. And if that doesn't tell the person what they need to know, they will tell you.

  • The question asks whether the present perfect tense is acceptable or required; this answer does not address that question.
    – phoog
    Apr 26, 2020 at 6:35
  • My final paragraph states that the tense is not as important as the content of the question. So yes, it is an answer. But hey, thanks for the downvote. I'll be sure to return the favor sometime.
    – ScottM
    Aug 1, 2021 at 20:08

This question is asking for a location as an answer.

Suitable short answers are:

  • in the house
  • at the park
  • upstairs

As a full sentence, the answer will most commonly be in the simple past:

  • I was inside
  • I was at the park

or the past progressive:

  • I was getting the car washed
  • I was taking a walk

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