-Where have you been? -I've been at Ivan's.

-Where were you? -I was at Ivan's.

-Where have you been? -I was at Ivan's.

-Where were you? -I've been at Ivan's.

Are all of these dialogues correct? What's the difference between these combinations? When is each used?

  • We really don't do homework or editing here. If you type them into Word, you will see if they are all OK.
    – Lambie
    Aug 5, 2021 at 19:51
  • OK, I really meant to find out whether all the four combinations were used in real life and if so, in what situation you would choose one rather than the other, because I can't see the difference - they are all translated the same way into my native language.
    – Let
    Aug 5, 2021 at 20:28
  • No doubt! I understand both present perfect and past simple, but I really have difficulty regarding this particular case.
    – Let
    Aug 5, 2021 at 20:37
  • It is this slight emphasis that escapes me. It doesn't escape me in other cases. Say, I understand why you'd say "did you ever have a DVD-player?" in past simple (meaning you can't get one now, since their time is long gone) and "have you ever been to Japan?" (Japan exists, you can get there, you're speaking about your life's period which still lasts, you're speaking about the time up to now)
    – Let
    Aug 5, 2021 at 20:46
  • OK, I have written up an answer. See if you like it. Did you ever refers to a non-specific past: Did you ever have a DVD player? Yes, I have. Next question: When did you have it? I had one two years ago.
    – Lambie
    Aug 5, 2021 at 21:10

2 Answers 2


An introduction:

A simple answer:

IF there is a specific time limit actual or implied, use was/were.

(Actual: last night, this morning [it is now the afternoon], last week, two months ago, etc. etc. that is specific or if the speaker uses was/were, he or she is implying one of those time limiters.]

If there is no time limit as given above, and the speaker or person answering does not wish to or does not limit the time and the question is true at the time of speaking, use has/have been. It refers to the past but not a specific event. Just that it concerns the past up until the time of speaking.

Mom: Where have you been Johnny?
Johnny: I've been in my room. [until the present time as he is speaking to her. He is no longer in his room when saying this]
Mom: Ah, but when exactly were you in your room?
Johnny: I was in my room until you called me.

PLEASE NOTE: He could have answered right away: I was in my room, if he had wanted to.


Mom: Where were you Johnny? [implying a specific time, for the last hour]
Johnny: I was in my room. [Now, he is talking to her. The event is OVER. He is no longer in his room.]
Mom: Ah, have you been there all morning? [it is still morning]
Johnny: Yes, I have. I was in my room until you called me right now.

PLEASE NOTE: He could have answered I've been in my room.


Have you ever visited Japan? [unspecified time in the past] Yes, I have.

When did you visit Japan? [A specific time is being requested]. Last year.

See the switch?

The was/were and has/have been is a function of what the speaker wants to say; And what the other person wants to say. It is not about grammar. It is only about grammar insofar as we don't used specific times for an event that is finished. So, we don't say:

I've been in my room for ten minutes. unless that is what we want to say and we are still in the room (true at time of speaking).

I was in my room for ten minutes. [means: I am no longer there.]

  • In fact, I just wanted to clear up one more thing. You wrote there: "Mom: Where were you Johnny? [implying a specific time, for the last hour]". What do you mean by "for the last hour"? Do you mean 60 minutes that went before the current minute, that is a completed 60-minute period that is in the past (current minute isn't part of that 60-minute period)?
    – Let
    Aug 6, 2021 at 18:04
  • Where were you Johnny for the last hour? [You were not here with me.] Answer: I was at the pool, Mom.
    – Lambie
    Aug 6, 2021 at 23:01

All four are proper.

Because the present perfect can be used to describe actions or states in the recent past, sometimes either the simple past or the present perfect mean exactly the same thing.

Nevertheless, it is usual for the tense of an answer to match the tense of the question. So your first two examples are more “natural” the last two. This is not a grammatical rule but rather more or less unconscious parallelism.

This parallelism is most often broken when the answer is more complex than the question seems to expect.

Where have you been?

I was at Ivan’s but had a flat tire on the way home.

  • 1
    Where have you been? Answer: I went to the store. Tenses often do not match, in fact.
    – Lambie
    Aug 5, 2021 at 19:52
  • Thanks. So, basically, they may mean the same in certain situations. I had this question because all four combinations are translated the same way into my mother tongue, and due to this fact it's really hard for me to understand when you ought to choose one over the other.
    – Let
    Aug 5, 2021 at 20:34
  • The English use of the present perfect must confuse speakers of many other Indo-European languages. In essence, the English simple past covers situations that would be treated under separate tenses, namely imperfect and present perfect, in those languages. But if question and answer are otherwise parallel, usually the tenses will be parallel as well. There really is not enough room in a comment to explain the different uses of the present perfect in English or how to indicate an imperfect aspect to a verb in the past tense. An advanced English grammar in your native language may help best. Aug 6, 2021 at 0:30
  • I don't understand that comment. Spanish and Portuguese are Indo-European languages, both of which use simple past and present perfect, much like English does. As I said before and show in my answer, the tenses can be parallel or not. If not, there is a reason for it.
    – Lambie
    Aug 6, 2021 at 16:15
  • In Spanish, French, German, and Latin, the present perfect is used to indicate any past action with perfect aspect. That is not true in English; the present perfect is not used as a tense to describe the past in general. Aug 6, 2021 at 17:10

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