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I had been for a long walk and was feeling tired.

(An example sentence from a grammar book, without context.)

I am not familiar with the use of "had been" here. I think it is equivalent to "went": I went for a long walk and... right?

Does the corresponding present tense work?

I have been for a long walk/ for a 10 minutes' walk and I'm feeling tired.

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  • I would say (in American English) either that I had gone for a walk, or that I had been on a walk. Either went for or went on would also work here.
    – Davislor
    Jul 6 at 13:54
  • It is also idiomatic to say "I took a walk" or I had taken a walk." Jul 6 at 18:22

4 Answers 4

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(1) I had been for a long walk and was feeling tired.

This (1) is the past perfect construction (or tense). It indicates that the action (here the walk) started and ended in the past, and probably not the very recent past. The speaker is looking back on a moment now past, but after the walk was over, the moment when the speaker was tired.

  • (2A) I have been for a long walk and I'm feeling tired.
  • (2B) I have been for a 10 minutes' walk and I'm feeling tired.

The sentences (2A) and (2B) use the present perfect. This indicates that the action (here the walk) is complete, but was only recently completed. The speaker is currently tied after his or her recent walk.

(3A) I went for a long walk and was feeling tired.

This (3A) uses the simple past. In this case the meaning is very similar to (1), although the completion of the walk is less emphasized.

(3B) I went for a long walk and am feeling tired.

This (3B) also uses the simple past. In this case the meaning is very similar to (2A). Here the walk is recent, and the speaker is still tired.

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  • What about (3A') I had gone for a long walk and was feeling tired? It's similar to (3a) and (1), and it emphasizes on the completion, right? All doubts will be dispelled after your confirming this.
    – Robby zhu
    Jul 6 at 7:11
  • To me, I had gone for a walk does not imply completion; you could be talking about something that happened in the course of the walk. Jul 6 at 7:51
  • @kate Bunting I get it. "had gone for a walk" could only involve "had started to walk".
    – Robby zhu
    Jul 6 at 8:26
  • @Robby zhu I would say that "had gone for a walk" could mean that the walk was started, but interrupted, and so never completed, it could mean that the walk is still in progress, or it could have a meaning similar to (1) or (3A). Jul 6 at 15:01
  • Thank you for listing all possible readings
    – Robby zhu
    Jul 7 at 5:20
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English clauses can be analysed as having two separate orthogonal properties — there's tense, which is just past, present, or the structure English uses for future tense; and there's aspect, which includes perfect and continuous, in any combination or neither of them.

The tense refers to the time period in which the sentence is "set". When telling a story you'll usually use a bunch of sentences in the past tense, because the story happened in the past. Meanwhile when talking about things that are relevant now, you'll be using the present tense.

However, what if you're talking about something that's relevant now, but only because of something that has previously happened? This is the case where you would apply the perfect aspect to the present tense. The classic example is comparing the simple past "I ate", which might be part of a story but doesn't have any particular bearing on the present; with the present perfect (ie present tense, perfect aspect) "I have eaten", which is more likely to have the meaning of "right now, I don't need to eat (because I finished eating in the recent past and remain full)". The perfect aspect refers to something that has been completed, but the emphasis is on the relevance of the fact that that thing has been completed, not necessarily on the action itself.

These concepts can be extended to other tenses. For example, if you are telling a story in the past, you might say "I walked to the railway station. I had eaten that morning, so I didn't need to buy anything from the shop." The "story" is still all in the same past tense, but you refer to a previous action that has completed and that completion holds some relevance at that point in the narrative, so in that second sentence we use the past perfect (sometimes traditionally called "pluperfect").

Similarly you can have future perfect: "I will have had that meeting by then, so I'll know which colour wallpaper to buy".

The continuous aspect is another thing entirely and I think harder to explain, but it emphasises that an action is in progress at that time period. This is why it is mostly used where many other languages would use the simple present — for actions that are going on now, as opposed to habitual actions which English reserves the simple present for. So present continuous "I am eating". It can even be mixed with the perfect aspect, for instance if a task is done or perhaps interrupted but it's not the completion but the fact that the task had previously been in progress that you want to emphasise: "I had been painting earlier that day, so I was still wearing an apron when the doorbell rang".

Of course these are some very distinct examples, but native English speakers blur the lines between simple past and present perfect all the time, especially in some dialects and especially in colloquial speech. You will, in practice, find people especially from parts of the US saying things like "I ate already". But it's something a lot of native speakers really do use all the time without thinking about it or even consciously understanding it (I find most native speakers can't articulate what the actual difference is between simple past and present perfect, even if they can use them in sentences perfectly), so it's definitely worth learning.

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The past perfect is usually represented as the past of the simple past, but it can also be the past of the present perfect, as it is here.

Imagine you're at that time in the past when you're feeling tired. You might say:

I have (just) been for a long walk and I'm feeling tired.

In this sentence, present perfect is describing a past event with a present result, which is a common function of present perfect. Then, if you tell the story of this moment later on, the present continuous ("I'm feeling") becomes past continuous ("I was feeling"), and the present perfect ("I have been") becomes past perfect ("I had been").

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'had been' doesn't mean the same as 'went' here; it means (almost) the same as 'had gone'. So your sentence could be rephrased as

I had gone for a long walk and was feeling tired.

(Kate Bunting's comment to David Siegel's answer says that this alternative version could mean that the speaker became tired during the walk; this is grammatically true, but I would say semantically unlikely.)

This use of 'been' for 'gone' is rather subtle. For instance, these two sentences:

He's gone for a walk.

and

He's been for a walk.

are not the same; in the first, he is probably still on his walk, while in the second, he has definitely finished his walk. This is the substance of Kate Bunting's comment.

The Wiktionary definition of 'be' says (definition 5):

(intransitive, in perfect tenses) Elliptical form of "be here", "go to and return from" or similar, also extending to certain other senses of "go".

Here the meaning is "go to and return from": He has gone on a walk (and returned from it).

But note "in perfect tenses". So you can only use the 'been' form of the verb 'be'; you can't say, for instance,

*He was for a walk.

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