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Is is correct to say

How many times has Tom been married?

or we have to say

How many times has Tom gotten married?

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Both questions are grammatically valid, but they convey different nuances. Also note that gotten is primarily AmE (and at least some Brits would consider the BrE equivalent got to be "colloquial").

For most contexts OP's first version (have) is "normal, standard". It'll be understood as How many times has Tom been in a married state? (separated by periods during which he wasn't married).

By contrast, OP's second version will be understood as How many times has Tom been through a marriage ceremony? But partly because it's a relatively unusual thing to ask, it will usually carry the implication that the speaker not only expects the answer to be [considerably] more than once - he also thinks the number of times Tom has been married is "unusually" high.

That's to say the gotten version is almost a rhetorical question. There's quite a strong implication that the speaker doesn't necessarily care exactly how often Tom has undergone the process - to some extent he's simply announcing that the expected answer is Tom has been married many times.

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  • Perfect, I really enjoyed reading your answer. thank you. could you please take an example of rhetorical question in which my second sentence is involved? – Green1313 Feb 12 '16 at 15:19
  • If you look at these few dozen instances of How many times has he gotten (whatever) I think you'll see that most if not all are effectively rhetorical questions. Usually, where the expected / implied answer is something along the lines of A lot! (too often), but sometimes it'll be an "inverted, sarcastic" question where both conversants know perfectly well the answer is Never! Is that what you wanted to know about? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 12 '16 at 15:26
  • Could you please take a more certain example like "Your girlfriend asks if you love her. You say "Is the pope catholic?" to suggest that it is obvious you love her". ? because this rhetorical question is completely new to me. – Green1313 Feb 12 '16 at 15:36
  • Things like Is the pope catholic?, or Do bears shit in the woods? are really "figurative" rhetorical questions, in that the speaker isn't even interested in the pope or the bears - his "question" is just a humorous way of replying Yes! Definitely! to some other question that's been either explicitly or implicitly raised. But suppose you just fell over and gashed your leg badly, with blood streaming everywhere. Someone says Are you okay?, and your exasperated reply is Do I look like I'm okay? Call an ambulance! That's a "typical" rhetorical question usage. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 12 '16 at 16:50
  • @ FumbleFingers yes I got the point but you said that " the gotten version is almost a rhetorical question" now my question is that in which situation someone can use a question like "How many times has tom gotten married?" as a rhetorical question? – Green1313 Feb 12 '16 at 18:19
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Has gotten married in English usually refers to the start point of marriage, that is, the wedding. Tom has gotten married three times focuses on his three weddings.

Has been married focuses on the length of time for each marriage.

The difference is very subtle, though, so either is fine and mean almost exactly the same thing.

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  • I think you've accurately identified the difference, but I'm not convinced that difference is "subtle". My guess is that almost all native speakers would not only understand the basic semantic distinction (separate periods of being married, as opposed to separate marriage ceremonies). I think they'd also understand OP's second version as strongly implying that Tom gets married more often than most (perhaps because he treats the process more casually than others, or because he's very bad at choosing the right long-term partner). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 12 '16 at 14:34
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    As we normally assume one marriage ceremony per marriage, the two questions are pretty much equivalent. Even if they didn't have a formal ceremony with the bride walking down the aisle and the groom getting drunk and all, they must have done some paperwork or something. – Jay Feb 12 '16 at 14:48
  • @Jay: This is rather strange. Two upvotes for bgStack's answer, and another one for your comment, effectively asserting that there's no significant semantic or implicit distinction for what seems to me to be extremely "marked" phrasing in the second case. And no votes at all for my answer pointing out exactly what the difference is. As the AmE gotten wouldn't often be used in BrE anyway, perhaps I'm seeing a clear-cut distinction that simply doesn't exist for AmE speakers. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 12 '16 at 15:31
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    @FumbleFingers Maybe this is an American/British thing. As an American, I see both sentences as equally acceptable and as meaning the same thing. Compare to "Do you have a box?" versus "Did you get a box?" Not exactly the same meaning, but in practice pretty much interchangeable. If that's not true over there in Albion, well, hmm. Amusing. – Jay Feb 12 '16 at 15:56
  • @Jay interesting comparison between "Do you have a box?" and "Did you get a box?" – Green1313 Feb 12 '16 at 16:05

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