In perfect constructions apparently requiring the verb “go“, the normal past participle “gone” is often replaced by the past participle of the copula verb “be“, namely “been“. This gives rise to sentences of contrasting meaning.
When “been” is used, the implication is that, at the time of reference, the act of going took place previously, but the subject is no longer at the place in question. When “gone” is used, the implication is again that the act of going took place previously, but that the subject is still at (or possibly has not yet reached) that place.
- My father has gone to China. (He is in China, or on his way there, now)
- My father has been to China. (He has visited China at some time in his life)
- When I returned, John had gone to the shops. (He was out of the house)
- When I returned, John had been to the shops. (The shopping was done, John was likely back home)
Note that been is used in such sentences as if it were a verb of motion (being followed by adverbial phrases of motion, such as those starting with to), which is different from its normal uses as part of the copula verbbe.
- Sue has been to the beach. (as above; Sue went to the beach at some time before now)
- Sue has been on the beach. (use of been simply as part of “be“; she spent time on the beach)
The above sentences with the present perfect can be further compared with alternatives using the simple past, such as:
- My father went to China.
As usual, this tense would be used if a specific past time frame is stated (“in 1995”, “last week”) or is implied by the context (e.g. the event is part of a past narrative, or my father is no longer alive or capable of traveling). Use of this form does not in itself determine whether or not the subject is still there.