“To be, or not to be” – Shakespeare said in his play, Hamlet, around 1600.
The words be, been and being belong to the same family but are used differently. They’re like brothers and sisters; they’re in the same family but each does a different job.
(a) Using “be”
“Be” is used to compliment auxiliary verbs like can, will and must.
- Suhaimi will be at home by 5:00 p.m. today.
- You must be very tired after a long day.
- I’ve an old computer that can still be used (by anyone).
The word “be” in all three examples has no specific meaning. It just exists because it compliments can, will and must. Therefore, the following sentences are wrong.
- Suhaimi will at home by 5:00 p.m. today. (X)
- You must very tired after a long day. (X)
- I’ve an old computer that can still used. (X), but
I’ve an old computer that I can still use. (√) – not “used“
Take note: If you see an action verb after the auxiliary verb, then you cannot use “be“.
- Suhaimi will come home by 5:oo p.m. today.
- You must rest after a long day.
- I’ve an old computer that can still function well.
(b) Using “been”
“Been” is used to compliment auxiliary verbs: has, have and had.
- John has been (waiting) here for over an hour.
- The children have been taught (by someone) to respect others.
- If I had been busy, I wouldn’t bother coming here.
The word “been” in both examples also has no specific meaning.
(b) Using “being“
“Being” can be used to replace “to be“. It normally comes after the verbs: is, are, was and were.
- You are being helpful.
- The road was being blocked (by someone), so we can’t get through.
- Who is being blamed for this mistake?
- Was I being rude to you just now?
I often hear people use have been and have gone quite interchangeably. In fact, both are very differently used. Check this out and tell the difference:
- Daniel and Selina have been to London. – [They’ve visited there, so they know what it’s like.]
- Daniel and Selina have gone to London. – [They’re now there.]
In Example #1, the sentence shows that both Daniel and Selina know about London because they have already visited there. Therefore, they are able to tell you about life in London. In Example #2, the sentence shows that Daniel and Selina are now in London. They’re not here.
So, you cannot write sentences like these:
- I have gone to China before. (X)
- She has been to Genting Highlands for her honeymoon. (X)
- Andy: Where’s mom?
Brian: Oh, she has been to the supermarket. (X)
- Susan: How do you know so much about America?
Paul: Well, I’ve gone there before. (X)
Therefore, we can conclude that “have/has been” is used to indicate the experience of visiting and knowing a place, while “have/has gone” means that the person we’re talking about is there, not here.
By the way, have you been to Malacca? If not, you’re welcome 😛