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Can we use present perfect tense to imply that we have been to [some place] before (but we are in a different place now) by adding the information that shows how long we stayed there?

But I have learnt that the sentence below is grammatically wrong:

  1. I have been to London for two weeks.

Should I say:

  1. I stayed in London for two weeks last month.
  • Both sentences look okay to me. :) -- Consider: "I have been to the moon for two weeks. That's why I qualify for the prize." It is often context that determines whether a sentence is acceptable or not. – F.E. Jan 31 '15 at 21:55
  • While the first isn't incorrect, present perfect is a bit awkward for what you are expressing. I suggest "I spent two weeks in [place]." – Ben Voigt Feb 1 '15 at 0:02
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We don't normally use the present perfect when we indicate a definite period that the event occurred at:

  • *I have been to London in 1990.

But it is fine to say how long we were doing something for, as long as we don't indicate when this was:

  • I have held my breath for three minutes before.

Notice that in the sentence above, we do not know when this event occurred.

The Original Poster's example sentence is grammatical, although without more context it may seem a bit odd. Here is a similar sentence with some context:

  • I know you've been to London for the odd day before. But have you ever spent any real time there? Have you ever been there for two weeks, for example?

Hope this is helpful!

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    +1. What about "I have already been to London in 1990. So I don't need to go there now." :) – F.E. Jan 31 '15 at 21:37
  • Yes @F.E. inserting adverbs can greatly affect the sense of the present perfect, as in I've just been to London in 1990; I don't want to go again now (spoken, say, in 1991) or I've only been to London in 1990. Although I would be apt to judge your sentence as ungrammatical--unless spoken in 1990. – user6951 Jan 31 '15 at 21:55
  • @Araucaria: Leaving out the "to" from 'have been to' + place-name changes things quite a lot. And in your example, the time-phrase really means "for as long as two-weeks". Big difference. It's not a specific|definite time-period in the past. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 1 '15 at 22:37
  • @F.E. Yes, I was thinking about your present perfect + yesterday examples from H&P when I wrote usually ;) I still find them very marginal to my BE ear though - and wonder how many examples they actually found. But I'm willing to bow to their superior judgement! :-) – Araucaria Feb 2 '15 at 11:58
  • @TRomano Unless it's the use of the present perfect indicating something that started in the past and is continuing now, for always indicates a period, not a specific time. (Even in the ohter construction, it's the Present Perfect, not the for which enables us to get the still going on/still not going on reading. – Araucaria Feb 2 '15 at 12:00
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The sentence is grammatical. As usual, one needs to consider context. Sentences are not spoken in a void. And they are not laboratory specimens to be dissected without regard to context.

The reason

I have been to London for two weeks

might seem ungrammatical is the following:

The basic meaning of I've been to a place (before) is that at some point in the past I went to a place but I am not still there at the moment of speaking.

I've been to London (before now)

is equivalent to

I've /gone to and returned from/ London (before now)

The speaker is not still in London. This can be because the speaker has gone to London and (a) returned to the starting point, or (b) went somewhere else. The before now is not necessary; I include it just to bring out the sense of the present perfect.

When we use the present perfect with for a specific duration, we usually do so to indicate the duration of an action begun in the past that continues to the moment of speaking, whether referring to a single continuous action, as in

I've read this book for two hours, and now I am putting it away and doing something else.

Or to a series of repeated actions:

I've read this book for two months and I still haven't finished it.

Since for two hours/months indicates the duration of an action or repeated action up to the moment of speaking

?I've been to London for two weeks

in the sense

?I've /gone to and returned from/ London for two weeks.

seems ungrammatical, since the speaker is not still in the process of /going to and returning from/ London.

However, the speaker is (still) in the state of been to London for some past duration.

CONTEXT 1
If we were discussing how long a person has been to a certain place, either on one occasion or across more than one instance, the following questions are all valid:

Has anyone (ever) been to London for more than a week?

or even the more specific

Has anyone (ever) been to London for two weeks?

Note the ever is not necessary. One can ask those same to questions without ever and they mean the same. I include it just to show that the question is asking about a We can drop ever and ask about a very specific past time:

Has anyone been to London for two weeks during this past month?

For any of the above questions, the following response is grammatical:

I've been to London for two weeks.

This is grammatical, even though the speaker is not still in London and we are using for a duration. This is because the speaker, at the moment of speaking, is *in the state of 'been to London' in the past.

This is also the meaning with the participle:

Having been to London for two weeks, I can (from my experience) say that it rains a lot.

CONTEXT 2
The question

Where have you been (recently)?

can elicit the grammatical response

I've been to London for two weeks


Last, with the present perfect, we can use just to indicate the immediate past:

I've just been to London

which means

I've been to London just recently (or just now)

Adding a duration is fine:

I've just been to London for two weeks

which means

I've been to London for two weeks just recently (or just now)

Of course, 'just' can mean "simply" rather than "recently", as in

I've just been to London for two weeks (I haven't done anything else)

as in:

I've (just/simply) been to London for two weeks; I did't do anything nefarious such as engage in drug smuggling during my trip.

0

We cannot say:

I have been to the moon for two weeks.

But we can say:

I haven't been to the moon for two weeks.

At the moment, I must leave, but will complete this answer later in the day.

I'm back. I appreciate the forbearance. Expected to see a -10.

The verb 'been to' can be paraphrased as 'have gone to' or 'have taken a trip to' or 'have seen' or 'have spent time in' or 'have visited'. Clearly, when it means 'have seen' or 'have gone to see' or 'have taken a trip to', we cannot have a time-expression like "for two weeks"; the question becomes hazier when it means 'spent time in|on' or 'visited'.

I've been to the new panda exhibit for two weeks. (not OK: translation: ?)

I've been to the new stadium for two weeks.
(not OK: translation:?)

Your cough sounds bad. Have you been to the hospital?
--I have been to the hospital for two weeks. (not OK.)

Have you ever been to the top floor of this building?
--I've been to the top floor for two weeks. (not OK, or at least not idiomatic. One would say there if one wanted to say that one is there now and had been there for the past two weeks.)

I've been to this restaurant for two weeks.
(not OK).

I've been to London for the day|week.
(OK. translation: I recently spent the day|week in London or "I have just come back from London where I spent the day|week").

Have you been to Crete?
--I've been to Crete for two weeks
(not an idiomatic reply, IMO. marginally grammatical).

I've been to this hotel for a week.
(not idiomatic but perhaps marginally grammatical if we understand 'been to' loosely to mean 'stayed in')

In Stangdon's example 'been to' can be paraphrased 'have visited'. (I'm moving "only" to a different location in the sentence to disentangle it from the verb.) "I've been to London only for one day, but I've been to Paris for two weeks"

I have visited London only for a day but I have visited Paris for two weeks.

What is it about this sentence that strikes my ear as ungrammatical? It's the use of the present perfect with a defined, finite time-span in the past. The action was completed in the past, so my ear wants the simple past, but there is no simple past version of 'have been to'.

The discordant time-aspect of "I have been to Paris for two weeks" is partially muted by the first clause:

I've been to London for only one day, ...

where "only" in "only one day" casts the time-span as brevity.

  • 3
    I disagree, but I am very curious to hear your explanation. "I've only been to London for one day, but I've been to Paris for two weeks" sounds unremarkable to my (Northeastern US) ear. – stangdon Jan 31 '15 at 17:56
  • It's a useful point to make. In example #2, for two weeks would normally be understood to mean during the past two weeks (with the strong implication that I've been to the moon several times, most recently two weeks ago - and further implication that I normally go to the moon more than once every two weeks). But whether in a negated context or not, it's grammatically/semantically possible to interpret for two weeks as defining the length of time I was on the moon (or not, as the case may be). – FumbleFingers Jan 31 '15 at 18:51
  • Hmmm: "I know you've been to London for the odd day. Have you ever been there fore two weeks?" <---- Seems ok to me ... – Araucaria Jan 31 '15 at 18:59
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    If the total time that Neil Armstrong spent on the moon was two weeks, either on one trip or as calculated across more than one trip, he can say I have been to the moon for two weeks. – user6951 Jan 31 '15 at 20:06
  • @δοῦλος: how would you paraphrase 'been to' in that example? As "traveled to"? Or as 'spent time on'? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 1 '15 at 14:18

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