I found this question and its answer on internet-

Q. Can I use "I have been to Hong Kong" instead of "I went to Hong Kong"?
A. Not when you are specifically talking about your first trip abroad (in the past).

But I do not understand what it means. Could you please let me know the difference?

  • 1
    – Sandeep D
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 8:30
  • 1
    What do you not understand, Carter Lee? if you are talking about your first trip abroad, then you are talking about a past-time event, and need a past-tense verb.
    – tunny
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 8:39
  • 2
    @tunny What's Carter Lee?
    – Sandeep D
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 8:42
  • 3
    The name of the person asking the question.
    – tunny
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 8:47

4 Answers 4


The subtle difference lies. I'll try to explain 'have been' and 'went' irrespective of the answer stated there that might have confused you.

Have been is generally used to say you had gone to that place and come back. On the other hand, went in this context talks about your presence on that place in the past.

I have been to America

...means at least once I had gone to the states and come back.

Think about this - if your friend asks you, "Have you gone to America?" This would be unnatural to many. On the other hand, if he wants to ask whether, in your lifetime, you have ever visited America, the better construction is "Have you been to America (ever)?"

So, to answer this in the context of visiting the places, if you want to say that you had visited that place and had come back, the better way is have been and if you are more concerned about your presence in past, use went as in " When I went to New York City, I learned that Americans there are very amicable".


have been is primarily used when just stating that you have been to that country/state before. Doesn't matter the number of times. For example, someone says they went to Japan last month. Then you could say "I have been to Japan before! Did you enjoy it?".

Whereas went is primarily used when talking about a chronological order of events. For example "I started my vacation on the 11th in Miami, then I went to Orlando on the 13th." So you see, "I have been to Orlando on the 13th" is not proper use. Have been doesn't look for date context.


Simple answer.
When speaking vaguely about the time use "have been" or "I've been".

Example: "I've been to Greece (before)."

When you are being more precise about the exact time period you visited, you cannot use "have been". You need to use "went".

Example: "I went to Greece last summer" is correct. "I have been to Greece last summer" is incorrect. "I've gone to Greece" is similar to "I've been to Greece".

Now, if you're speaking about the NUMBER of times you've visited a place, you can use both interchangeably.

Examples: "I went to Greece 3 times." "I've been to Greece 3 times."
Both of these are acceptable.


Another way of looking at this is in terms of actions or events in the past that are completed or finished vs actions in the past but which have a connection to the present - this is essentially the distinction in English grammar between the simple past and the present perfect. The simple past talks about past actions or events that are completed, and sometimes have a time qualifier. eg. "He went to America in 1990" - done and dusted, over, finished and in the past with no real connection to the present, except he may still be there because we don't know if he emigrated or came back, but the overall sense is of a completed action. Conversely "He has been to America" is somewhat different. You can't put a time qualifier on it (try it and see if it sounds right), and it is otherwise non specific about when. It is connected to the present because it tells you something about the person 'now' in terms of their history (yeah I know so does the other sentence but just ignore that because it doesn't matter because it's in the past and over), but it also tells us he came back so is here now and leaves open the possibility he may go to America again in the present time. Another standard example you will see in text books is - simple past "he lost his keys yesterday," a completed action where he might still be looking for them but the implication is probably not and present perfect "he has lost his keys" - we don't know when and he may still looking for them and cannot get into his house right now in the present.

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