As far as I know these two mean the same:

I have been married. = I was married.

What about this?

1 I have studied English at school, but I have forgotten it now.

2 I studied English at school, but I have forgotten it now.

I think that 2 is surely correct but 1 is dubious. However, why is 1 dubious? It says about experience. What is your reaction to 1?

  • But your sentences about "married" don't necessarily mean the same thing. If I say "I was married for five years" it means it is over now; if I say "I have been married for five years", it means I am married now.
    – stangdon
    Jan 31 at 12:28
  • Where do you see any time period in my examples?
    – user1425
    Jan 31 at 17:26

2 Answers 2


As is often the case, both sentences are completely grammatical and natural, but would be used in different circumstances.

Your "married" pair is quite complicated, because the context - and whether there are any temporal phrases - can change the meaning.

I have been married with no context, would be understood to mean "at some point in my past, perhaps more than once, I was married, but am no longer". But I have been married for three years means "I got married three years ago, and am still married". As always, the perfect implies some present relevance, but the meaning of that present relevance can vary: in the first case it is something like "looking over the span of my life up to the present".

I was married on the face of it says that at some point in the past I was married. It doesn't logically exclude the possibility that I am still married; but if I were, I would be unlikely to say "I was married". However, in answer to the question "What was your status three years ago?" I was married would be the expected answer, even if you are still married.

So, in the absence of any overriding context, the two statements I was married and I have been married refer to the same objective fact, but the speaker is relating to them a little differently.

Turning to your other pair of sentences: in 2, you are stating that you studied English in the past: you're presenting it as a completed event, with no particular relevance to the present. You're not denying a relevance (in fact, your second clause indicates that there is some relevance) but for the purposes of the discourse, you're not bringing out any such relevance.

In 1, you are choosing to present the event of having studied as having some present relevance. That present relevance might have several meanings. One might be an expectation that you still had some English; but your second clause refutes that. Another is that you are looking back over your life until now (as in the "I have been married" case). Another possibility is that your study was recent, and that is how I would understand the sentence.

If the study wasn't recent, I would expect 2.

  • So, do you suggest that 2 can be in line with life experience as you say "Another is that you are looking back over your life until now (as in the "I have been married" case)"? Should I take it as 2 can be acceptable?
    – user1425
    Jan 31 at 17:32
  • 1
    I said that about 1, not 2. 2 is more likely, in my view, but 1 is possible in cases such as those I mentioned .
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 31 at 18:05

The comment by @Stangdon is correct and is a good basis for understanding why your second pair of examples is different.

  1. I was married.

  2. I have been married.

These two sentences have overlapping tenses, in that we can think of sentences where was and have been could be interchangeable:

  1. I was married twice.

  2. I have been married twice.

But clearly there are other sentences where only one is correct.

  1. I was married in 2015. (I have been married in 2015 is wrong.)

  2. I have been married since 2015. (I was married since 2015 is wrong.)

Now let's consider the school study sentences:

  1. I have studied English at school, but I have forgotten it now.

  2. I studied English at school, but I have forgotten it now.

Your instinct that sentence (8) is more accurate than sentence (7) is entirely correct. If you don't understand why, compare the (7,8) pair with the (5,6) pair. Why in sentence (5) is it wrong to say have been married? It's because we are pointing back to a completed event. My wedding took place only in 2015. That's the point when I was married. On the other hand, in sentence (6) was married is wrong; it would apply my wedding ceremony was 8 years long and counting!

So sentence (7) is wrong for a similar reason. Although your English studies were over a longer period than your one day wedding, the grammatical setting is identical. By including both your past studies and your present situation of forgetting, you have created a "then and now" contrast. Studied is the better tense at showing this. You studied in the past; you are no longer studying.

  • 1
    I disagree strongly that the the OP's 2 and your 8 are wrong. I find them far more likely than 1/7, unless the study was recent.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 31 at 14:23
  • 1
    O dear, you're right. Typo. I've got my numbers round the wrong way. Sorry, I'll correct. Jan 31 at 14:27

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