“I Was There” vs. “I Had Been There”

“I Was There” vs. “I Had Been There”

“I Was There” vs. “I Had Been There.” These expressions are commonly heard, but the difference between them can be unclear at first. So, probably an important first step is to first talk about English from a bigger picture. Asking yourself questions about the English language and about these two phrases can help you understand the differences between these two tenses and how they’re used. Whether or not you need to know both, depends on your situation. Let’s look at one of the situations and see what we can learn about “I was there” vs. “I had been there.”

Are You Preparing For An Exam?

If you’re preparing to take an English-proficiency exam such as TOEFL, TESOL, CPE, etc., then it is recommended that you learn both grammar tenses. While some tenses are used much more frequently than others in English-speaking countries, it’s still important to learn the other tenses so you can achieve a high school on your exam.

No Exam?

If you’re just wanting to improve your conversational skills and interact with native English speakers on the streets of New York or Los Angeles, then it’s only necessary to learn one of the tenses. Well, which one?

“I was there” – Simple Past

The Simple Past tense is the most commonly used past tense in the English language, so we don’t really use the Past Perfect tense (“I had been there”) very often, which doesn’t make it incredibly necessary to learn. Just to make you feel better, the Past Perfect tense is not regularly used by even native speakers.

Simple Past

As I mentioned before, this is the past tense we use the most. It’s used to describe actions that happened in the past. Now you’re wondering what the other tense is used for. Great question! The Past Perfect tense (“I had been there”) is used to describe a past action that happened before another past action. Imagine that you have been to Santiago, Chile in 2014, but you already went there once in 2010. How would you say this?

“I was in Santiago in 2014, and I had been there before, in 2010.”

Again, you’re just describing something that happened before something else in the past. Think of it as a sequence: a first action and a second action, but “had been” is for a past action that happened before “was.”

Conversationally, it’s really necessary to learn the Simple Past (“I was there”), since we often don’t use the Past Perfect (“I had been”) very much in conversations. A tip that will always be effective, however, is to practice grammar with native speakers or with anyone who is fluent in English. A great way to practice your English-speaking skills is to check out our friends at Verbling. It’s an awesome way to help you understand English that is natural, and spoke in everyday life in English-speaking countries. Also, check out the free E-book at old.gonaturalenglish.com. Thanks for reading and happy learning!

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