2

What is difference between

Have you ever married?

and

Have you ever been married?

2

To marry is to get married, to enter the state of wedlock.

To be married is to be (for some time) in the state of wedlock.

So your questions mean "Have you ever entered the state of wedlock?" and "Have you ever lived in the state of wedlock?"

2

The first literally means "Did you ever perform the specific actions required to be considered a married person?"

The second literally means "Were you ever in the specific type of personal relation called 'marriage'?"

In practice, the two statements would often be two different ways to ask about previous marital status. That is, they would frequently have the same meaning.

But if the context was the process of getting married in a particular legal jurisdiction or in conformity with the dictates of a particular religion, then the question would be along the lines "have you ever married in the state of Florida?

Or if the context was the complexities of married life, then a sensible question to ask would be "have you ever been married."

To sum up, both formulations are logically indistinguishable because you cannot have been married unless you first married, and if you ever married, you certainly have been married. So in many contexts they are asking the same question. But in some contexts, one formulation stresses acts, and the other formulation stresses a relationship.

  • 1
    But language does more than state things in true or false black-and-white terms. Language is for life's gray areas. A person could say I did get married but I've never really been married (with heavy emphasis on the word been) to describe a situation where their spouse had left soon after the ceremony, perhaps because they were in the military and had been deployed overseas. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 2 '18 at 16:52
  • to Jeff's point, in most circumstances they are approximately equivalent (although "have you been married" seems more common in US English to ask about state of being married), but to your point the differences can with emphasis/context be understood differently – eques Nov 2 '18 at 16:54
  • Aspectual differences are often important to speakers. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 2 '18 at 16:55
  • In Britain saying "he never married" (in a knowing tone of voice) of a dead person used to be a snide way of saying "he was probably gay". – Michael Harvey Nov 2 '18 at 17:59
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    But language does more than state things in true or false black-and-white terms. Where is our disagreement? You and I seem to agree that the literal meanings differ. In some contexts, one is suitable. In other contexts, the other is suitable. In other contexts, either is suitable. You seem to be misreading my answer. In fact, my difference between act and relationship is exactly what your example is about. – Jeff Morrow Nov 2 '18 at 19:39

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