I am a beginner for English grammar.
I read following paragraph in my grammar book.

I got your long email about two weeks ago and have been trying to find time to write you back ever since. I have been vary busy lately. In the past two weeks, I have had four tests, and I have another one next week. In addition, a friend has been staying with me since last Thursday. She wanted to see the city, so we have been spending a lot of time visiting some of the interesting places here. We(be) _________ to the zoo, the art museum, and the botanical gardens.

I answered 'were', but right answer from answer key was 'have been'.
Why is the answer "have been", not "were"?

Dose anybody help me?


  • 2
    Because We were to the zoo,... is ungrammatical.
    – user6951
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 22:07

2 Answers 2


Motional be

In The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (p.113-4), this is called "motional be", and it has a requirement that's very unusual. In this meaning, be appears only in perfect constructions:

(present perfect)  We have been to Paris twice.
(past perfect)     By 2008, we had been to Paris twice already.

This is not possible without the perfect:

(present simple)  *We are to Paris.    ← ungrammatical
(past simple)     *We were to Paris.   ← ungrammatical

The perfect construction have been to X is an experiential perfect. It means you've gone to X in the past and have (probably) since left; now you have the experience of having gone there.

Note the perfect with be doesn't always have this meaning:

  1. I've been here before.      (speaker came here before and left)
  2. I've been here for a long time.    (speaker is still here now)
  3. I've been here.          (ambiguous)

Example 1 is clearly an example of "motional be"; the speaker has had the experience of coming here at some point in the past and leaving. But in example 2, the speaker is telling they arrived here a long time ago, and are still here now.

Example 3 doesn't contain any clues like before or for a long time, so it could have either meaning. In cases like these, you'll have to rely on context to figure out how it's used.

  • What do you mean by "it's very unusual as English verbs go"?
    – Rucheer M
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 4:55
  • 2
    @RuchirM In this meaning, be is restricted to perfect constructions. This is unusual. Actually, grammatically speaking, be is unique; you have to memorize all the ways it's used. This is just one of them.
    – user230
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 5:05
  • You didn't get me. "as English verbs go" means? I am asking about this sentence's structure.
    – Rucheer M
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 5:13
  • 2
    @RuchirM What does "as English verbs go" mean? is potentially a good ELL question! Commented May 8, 2015 at 5:27
  • @DamkerngT. Done
    – Rucheer M
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 5:57

If you had said "We were to the zoo" that would be grammatically incorrect. You should instead say "We were at the zoo." You should use "We were at" to explain where you were at a specific time. For example:

Where were you yesterday?

We were at the zoo.

That's why you don't usually hear:

We were at the zoo, the art museum and the botanical gardens.

Because it implies you were at all three places at a specific time.

"Have been to" means you have been there before sometime in the past, but not at a specific time. So the sentence really means:

(At some point in the past) we were at the zoo, (at some other point in the past we were at) the art museum and (at another point in the past we were at) the botanical gardens.

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