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From 'Jane Eyre':

Bessie was gone down to breakfast.

Comparing this with an alternative not from 'Jane Eyre':

Bessie had gone down to breakfast.

What’s the semantic difference between these two sentences?

  • @snailplane, The first is from 'Jane Eyre.' – Listenever Feb 15 '13 at 7:02
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    @Listenever: (A) Authors have artistic licence, (B) books written more than 100 years ago are a bad way to learn modern English and grammar. – Matt Feb 15 '13 at 7:12
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    What @Matt said. I do not think repeatedly focussing on relatively unusual literary forms from Victorian novelists is a particularly good way of populating the ELL question list. "Where's Bessie?" "Oh, she is gone to work already". I don't think so, not in this day and age. – FumbleFingers Feb 15 '13 at 15:07
  • Is the form "She is gone to work" not still relatively common in British English? – Dr. Funk Mar 29 '17 at 14:24
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They mean basically the same, but some might want to argue that the first emphasises the state, while the second emphasises the action.

The use of forms of ‘be’ as an auxiliary verb used with the past participle of ‘go’ has a long and respectable history. It is used, as the Oxford English Dictionary says,

In intransitive verbs, forming perfect tenses; in later use chiefly with verbs of motion such as come, go, rise, set, fall, arrive, depart, grow, etc., expressing a condition or state attained at the time of speaking, rather than the action of reaching it, e.g. ‘the sun is set’, ‘our guests are gone’, ‘Babylon is fallen’, ‘the children are all grown up’. Now largely replaced by have following the pattern of transitive verbs.

The use of the past tense of ‘be’ is now less frequent than it was, but it is still found in the present tense in expressions such as ‘She’s gone’ and ‘Those days are gone forever.’

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