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I'm always having trouble to construct sentences with Present Perfect which ask about events in the past.

I want to ask "During the time that you lived in Siberia did you ever pay a visit to the North?"

How can this be done with "have been to" ?

  • Have you ever been to the North while living in Siberia?
  • Have you ever been to the North during your life in Siberia?

I know that I can't use "when" because it implies the Simple Past which doesn't line up with Present Perfect.

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    Both are grammatical. Prefer the first. The second is rather wordy. And it would do no harm to lose ever. – Ronald Sole Nov 26 '19 at 11:26
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    @RonaldSole I disagree. "Have you ever...?" implies 'until the present time', so it's not appropriate if the person no longer lives in Siberia. You would have to say "Did you ever go to the North while you were living in Siberia?" (or "when you lived", which would be perfectly OK.) – Kate Bunting Nov 26 '19 at 15:04
  • @Lambie - I disagree with that - I don't think either of those implications are accurate. I could ask the first to a person still living there, and that's fine. I could ask the second to a person who has moved away, and that's also fine. (US/America) – BadZen Nov 26 '19 at 19:03
  • @KateBunting It's interesting to reflect on the impact of ever as an intensifier. While it adds nothing to: Have you been married? and Have you ever been married? ( You either have or you haven't!) it implies a greater time span in:: Have you ever seen him? and Have you seen him. Surely just a question of context! – Ronald Sole Nov 26 '19 at 19:10
  • @RonaldSole I only put 'ever' in because the OP had. What I meant was that "Have you been to the North?" implies 'in your life', but if limiting the question to a particular period I would say "Did you go...?" – Kate Bunting Nov 26 '19 at 20:33
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A journalist is interviewing someone IN Siberia:

Have you ever been to the North while living in Siberia? Have you ever been to the North during your life in Siberia?

Both those mean the same thing. They both imply the person is still in Siberia. Both are fine, both are grammatical.

Contrast that to:

Did ever go to the North while living in Siberia? Did you go to the North during your life in Siberia?

That means the person is not longer in Siberia.

while living in Siberia means the same thing as during your life in Siberia.

The present perfect implies a connection to the present time and that the speaker is in Siberia.

If I ask you: SP 1- Have you ever spoken English in public? [that implies a connection to the present time. To the time (NOW) that I am asking you.]
SP 2- Yes, I have.
SP 1 - When did you do that?
SP 2 - A couple of weeks ago.

All this applies to AmE and BrE.

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  • So whatever I do I cannot use the Present Perfect to speak about an event in the past? I can't even say "Have you seen yesterday's show?" – SovereignSun Nov 27 '19 at 3:48
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    It's funny how, no matter how many times one explains it, many people still do not understand it: The present perfect tells you something occurred or started in the past and that at the time of speaking, it remains true (or false). It's about connecting the past to the present without being specific about when. "Have you seen yesterday's show?" means at any time up to my asking you that in the present, did you see the show? Have you seen it? Yes, I have. When did you see it? This morning. – Lambie Nov 27 '19 at 13:31
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There is a good reason for having trouble constructing present perfect sentences about events in the past. The present perfect simply is not about events in the past. It's about states in the present. A state in the present can imply an event or an action in the past, of course, but so do many other things.

If I understand your context correctly, you know someone who used to live in Siberia but now lives somewhere else. His living in Siberia is a past-tense state. His having been to the North during that time is also and necessarily a past-tense state. The tense appropriate to this context is the past perfect:

Had you ever been to the North while living in Siberia?

 

If you want to know about his present-tense state, then the present perfect construction makes sense:

Have you ever been to the North since living in Siberia?

The phrasing "since living in Siberia" might be interpreted as starting when he arrived there, or as starting when he left. In either case, it represents a period of time that extends to the current moment. It is a present-tense state. It works with the present tense construction of the main clause.

 

Have you ever been to the North while living in Siberia?

This version of the question implies that he still lives in Siberia, or perhaps that living in Siberia is an established habit and you expect him to live there again. The phrasing "while living in Siberia" has no tense of its own, but it exists within the tense of its main clause.

 

If you really want to ask about past events or actions, you don't want the perfect aspect at all. A past indefinite construction is appropriate:

Did you go to the North while living in Siberia?

The past tense event of going to the North is made explicit with the past indefinite construction, and implied by either the past perfect or the present perfect. Given your context, you shouldn't use "have been to".

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Have you ever been to the North while living in Siberia?
Have you ever been to the North during your life in Siberia?

These are both intelligible. The second implies that the speaker has knowledge that the listener actually lived in Siberia, the first does not necessarily.

The first sounds a little bit stilted / awkward, so prefer the second - it is more natural.

(With the "ever", it can imply a sense of either expecting a yes, or emphasizing that you are asking about /any/ time the listener was living in Siberia. But it only changes the feel, not the meaning.)

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  • A journalist might ask a question like that and they both mean the same thing. They are related to the present time. – Lambie Nov 26 '19 at 18:37

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