If I want to ask my friend about her travel, which tense is more preferred? I know that when asking about experience we use *present perfect *, like "have you been to Italy", "have you ever blah...?, but in my case, I want to get info about people accompanied her and for how long time she was there.

As I know, and how I understand the present perfect:

  • asking about experience ("have you been to...")
  • recent actions ("oops, I've dropped my phone")
  • something that is very topical right now ("have you done the homework?")
  • something that has finished till now ("finally, we've eaten the cake")

so based on how I understand it (please correct me if something) I think that I can ask her

Have you been there with your siblings?

How long have you been there?

Have you lived there in a dormitory? / Did you live there in a dormitory?

I think that I can say it because this info is very topical when I ask her and it's about the experience but the thing that confuses me is she was there many years ago, but not till now. So I dunno past simple or present perfect? I'm not going to use any specific dates in the questions.


  • [correction: experience with an e and trip, not travel] – Lambie Jul 16 at 16:50

"How long have you been there?" implies they are there now. "How long had you been there?" would be asking, in relation to some specific event or point in time, how long they had been there at some point in the past while they were still there.

"How long were you there?" is for when they aren't there any more, though context should try to make clear which trip (if they've been there more than once).

"Have you been there with your siblings?" is asking if, on any previous trip at all, they had their siblings with them. "Were you there with your siblings?" is for referring to a specific trip.

"Have you lived there in a dormitory?" is asking if, on any previous trip at all, they lived in a dormitory. "Did you live there in a dormitory?" is more likely to be used in reference to a specific trip. Though it would be more likely to be phrased "have you lived in a dormitory there?"/"did you live in a dormitory there?".

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Your three questions using the perfect all have an implied "on any of your visits".

So "Have you been there with your siblings?" means "Was there at least one occasion when you were there with your siblings, irrespective of any times that you were there without your siblings?"

Similarly, "Have you lived there in a dormitory" means "Was there at least one time when you lived there in a dormitory?"

So the "experience" meaning applies to the whole predicate. If you know that they've just been there once, the simple past "Were you there with your siblings?" is more natural.

As SamBC says, "How long have you been there" would normally be used when you are still there. It could be interpreted as "What is the total amount of time you have been there, on all your visits?" or "What is the longest time you have been there on any of your visits", but normally there would be an extra word clarifying the question.

[By the way: "dormitory" is one of those words that can cause misunderstanding between speakers of British and American English. Dictionary.com gives two meanings,

  1. a building, as at a college, containing a number of private or semiprivate rooms for residents, usually along with common bathroom facilities and recreation areas.
  2. a room containing a number of beds and serving as communal sleeping quarters, as in an institution, fraternity house, or passenger ship.

but only the second meaning is common in British English.]

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