Suppose my friend John was a good person. He used to help others. But recently he has changed. He has become a criminal. Therefore I can say,

John has become a criminal.

We often use be in the place of become. Can I rewrite this sentence as,

John has been a criminal. (Though this sentence means that he became criminal at some point in the past and since then he is still criminal)

  • 2
    Nope, they do not imply the same meaning.
    – Cardinal
    Jan 28, 2023 at 18:39
  • 1
    No. Become means to change state; a normal predicate noun with auxiliary be implies a state but not a change of state. Jan 28, 2023 at 18:39
  • "We often use be in the place of become." Can you cite a source for that or provide some examples? (The sense of "become" might be implied, as in "tomorrow I will be a graduate of the university", but "be" and "become" aren't really the same, so I'm not sure about what you mean.) Jan 28, 2023 at 18:53
  • @MarcInManhattan "I want to become a doctor" is rewritten as "I want to be a doctor". Jan 28, 2023 at 18:55
  • 1
    Let's say that a medical board is considering whether to revoke a doctor's license. It asks why he wants to remain in the profession, so he says, "I want to be a doctor!" He wouldn't say "I want to become a doctor!" since he already is one. The meanings are different. Jan 28, 2023 at 19:10

1 Answer 1


1: John has become a criminal.

Unambiguously asserts that John became a criminal inb the past (by very strong implication, recently), AND that he's still a criminal.

2: John has been a criminal.

As a standalone utterance, asserts that at some point in the past (not necessarily recently) John became a criminal, BUT it very strongly implies that he's no longer a criminal.

Note - that strong implication can be overridden. For example,...

3: John has been a criminal ever since he was a teenager.

  • "We've been friends" implies we're no longer friends and "We've been friends for 10 years" implies we're still friends. Right? Jan 28, 2023 at 18:57
  • Yes, and as an example for your #2: "John has been a criminal, a vagabond, and a snake-oil salesman, but he is now a well-respected congressman." (Let's assume that "congressman" is mutually exclusive with those other three occupations...) Jan 28, 2023 at 19:05
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    @SahilLaskar: No. "We've been friends" just implies the speaker isn't a native Anglophone! We'd only use that sequence of words if it continued... We've been friends since childhood, as per my example #3 Jan 28, 2023 at 19:12
  • Also note that in "real" (spoken) language, (uncontracted) We have been friends but we're enemies now would almost always be delivered with heavy stress on either or both of have and been (or feasibly heavy stress on both friends and enemies). Jan 28, 2023 at 19:58
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    You're completely mistaken. The only reason for using Past Perfect is if you're in some kind of "narrative" context where the temporal focus of the narrative is already in the past (and you're referring to something earlier than that). In a current conversation talking about John today, you might use Present Perfect to underline that he was, but is no longer a criminal - but learners would usually do better sticking to Simple Past John was a criminal [but he's an honest man now]. Jan 29, 2023 at 19:47

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