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Has Been or Had Been: How to Use the Perfect Tense

In the English language, it is important to understand the proper use of the perfect tenses. For example, when we try to talk about an action that occurred for some time and was ongoing, is it “has been” or “had been”?

“Has been” is only used with third-person nouns or pronouns to indicate an action that started in the past and either finished in the recent past (present perfect) or continued for a period (present perfect continuous). “Had been” is used in the past perfect tense to emphasize a completed action that began in the past, and the past perfect continuous emphasizes the duration.

This article will cover the details surrounding when we should use “has been” or “had been.” We’ll provide a few examples of constructing sentences in the present perfect, past perfect, and their continuous tenses.

The Difference Between Has or Had

“Has” and “had” are forms of the verb “have,” which as a transitive verb means to possess or hold. As an auxiliary verb, we use “has,” “had,” or “have” with past participles to form the present perfect, past perfect, or future perfect tense (source). 

We use “have” with first- and second-person pronouns, like “I” and “you.” “Has” is the present tense form that goes with third-person singular nouns, like “he,” “she,” and “it.” Meanwhile, “had” is the past tense form as well as the past participle of “have,” and it works with all of the pronouns.

PerspectivePronounsPresent TensePast Tense
First PersonI, weHaveHad
Second PersonYou, theyHaveHad
Third PersonHe, she, itHasHad

For more on using the auxiliary verbs “have” and “had,” make sure you take a look at the article “Have Run or Had Run: When to Use the Proper Past Tense.”

When to Use “Has Been” or “Had Been”

“Has been” and “had been” are perfect tense forms that combine the auxiliary verbs “has” or “had” with the past participle of “be,” which is “been” (source). If you have “been” somewhere, that means you have gone to that place or been in that circumstance.

“Has been” is in the present perfect or present perfect continuous tense, while “had been” is in the past perfect or past perfect continuous tense. Meanwhile, we can use “have been” for the present perfect or future perfect tenses (source).

What Is the Perfect Tense?

The perfect tense indicates an action that someone or something has completed (perfected). In the English language, we usually use three primary verb tenses to indicate an action according to the time frame in which it occurred. 

These are the past (something that has happened), the present (something that is still happening), and the future tense (something that will happen), respectively.

Grammarians further categorize each of these — past, present, and future tenses — into simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive tenses. Thus, for example, “Has been” or “Had been” belong to the perfect tense and perfect progressive/continuous tense.

If we do not follow “has been” or “have been” with another participle, they are in the present perfect tense, while “had been” is in the past perfect tense.

By adding another participle after the past participle “been,” we form the present perfect and past perfect continuous tenses. Thus, “has been” is in the present perfect continuous or progressive tense, while “had been” is the past perfect continuous or progressive tense.

Present PerfectHas + been + locationHe has been to the store.
Present Perfect ContinuousHas + been + present participleI have been running for three hours.
Past PerfectHad + been + locationHe had been to the store.
Past Perfect ContinuousHad + been + present participleI had been running for three hours.

Has Been Meaning

“Has been” means that someone or something was in the act of doing something or in a particular circumstance or location.

We use “has been” to indicate something that someone started in the past and finished (perfected) in the recent past or is still ongoing. When it is complete, we call it the “present perfect” because the results are visible in the present, even though the action has ceased (source).

We can also use “has been” to refer to repeated or recurring events that continued until the present.

The main difference between the present perfect tense and the present perfect continuous is that the present perfect tense focuses on a completed action. In contrast, the present perfect continuous tense emphasizes the continuation of an action (source).

While the present perfect continuous can also refer to a completed action, there is still a greater degree of continuity with the present.

The present perfect tenses involve using “have been” for first- and second-person singular and plural pronouns, while we use “has been” for third-person nouns or pronouns.

“Has Been” or “Have Been” Examples: Present Perfect

The present perfect tense uses the auxiliary verb “has” or “have” with a past participle. The construction for the present perfect tense includes an object after the participle that is either the object of the verb or the object of the preposition.

  • I have called my friend.
  • He has written three books.
  • Tommy has called for another meeting.
  • I have watched the movie.

We can also use “has been” or “have been” in the present perfect tense when we do not follow them with an -ing verb. This indicates that someone has gone to a particular location.

  • They have been to Europe.
  • They have been in a meeting for an hour.

Examples: Present Perfect Continuous

Image by Yifei Chen via Unsplash

In contrast, we can form a simple sentence in the present perfect continuous using the following construction: Subject + the auxiliary verb “has” or “have” + the past participle “been” + the present participle.

  • It has been raining for two hours.
  • I have been reading this book.

In these examples, the action is either still going on or has ceased in the recent past. We often use “has been” to show that someone or something — he, she, or it — started an action in the past that is still continuing.

  • She has been teaching in this school all her life.
  • He has been washing the car since this morning.
  • Eric has been around for a year.

In the last example, the present perfect continuous verb tense indicates that Eric arrived about a year ago, but it implies that he is still there.

We can do the same for “have been,” only we refer to ourselves or the addressee(s).

  • First-person singular: I have been reading The Ring for a month now.
  • First-person plural: We have been visiting for a week.
  • Second-person singular: You have been running that company for 15 years.
  • Second-person plural: They have been studying for the biology exam the whole day.

We can also refer to recent past activities where we can still see the effects of the activity.

  • It’s been raining.
  • I’ve been painting.
  • Jessica has been decorating.

Notice how we can use the contracted forms as well. “It’s” means “it has,” while “I’ve” is the contracted form of “I have.”

Examples: Negative and Interrogative Statements

To form a negative statement in the present perfect tense, we simply insert the adverb “not” between the auxiliary verb and the main verb.

  • He has not called his friend.
  • She has not been to Europe.
  • He has not written three books. 
  • Tommy has not called for another meeting
  • I have not watched the movie

Similarly, we can form a negative statement in the present perfect continuous by inserting “not” between the auxiliary verb and the past participle “been.”

  • It has not been raining for two hours.
  • They have not been in a meeting for an hour.
  • I have not been reading this book.

Also, we can form an interrogative sentence by changing the order of the subject and the auxiliary verb.

Present perfect:

  • Has he written three books?
  • Has Tommy called for another meeting?
  • Have I watched the movie?

Present perfect continuous:

  • Has it been raining for two hours?
  • Have they been meeting for an hour?
  • Have you been reading this book?

Had Been Meaning

Unlike “has been” or “have been,” we use “had been” in all past perfect tenses irrespective of the person or plurality of the noun or pronoun. 

The main difference between the past perfect and the past perfect continuous is that we use the past perfect continuous to describe how long something went on before another important event happened in the past.

In contrast, the past perfect emphasizes the completion of an action before another event in the past.

Had Been Examples: Past Perfect

The past perfect is a tense that we use to talk about experiences and actions that were completed at some point in the past. For example, how would you explain a story to your friends where the events happened in the past? 

This is where the past perfect tense comes in handy. Consider the following scenario: You go out for your morning walk, and when you return, you find out someone left a gift for you with a message that “Joey was here.”

If you were to describe this series of events to someone else, you might say, “I returned home and saw that Joey had left me a gift.”

We use the past tense auxiliary verb “had” with a past participle to form the past perfect.

  • Our team had won the championship.
  • We had lost the book.
  • The teacher had punished the boy.
Image by Olya Kobruseva via Pexels

Examples: Past Perfect Continuous

We use “had been” to define an action that began in the past, continued for some time, then ended in the past. In other words, its origin, continuation, and termination are all entirely in the past.

We construct the past perfect continuous tense as follows: Subject + had been + present participle.

  • I had been teaching there for a few months.
  • They had been painting the walls.
  • It had been raining for hours.
  • I had been their employee for seven years.
  • They had been talking for over an hour before their friend arrived.

Examples: Negative and Interrogative Statements

Just like the present perfect, we can form a negative statement in the past perfect by inserting the adverb “not” between the auxiliary verb and the main verb.

Past perfect:

  • I had not cleaned the floor.
  • They had not implemented the original plan.
  • I had not met her husband.

Past perfect continuous:

  • I had not been teaching there for long.
  • They had not been implementing the plan as they were supposed to.
  • The sun had not been shining for days.

Unlike the present perfect, we don’t generally form an interrogative sentence when we reverse the order of the auxiliary verb and the subject. Instead, we generally form a dependent clause.

Past perfect:

  • Had I not cleaned the paint, I would have been in serious trouble.
  • Had they not planned ahead, the trip could have taken twice as long.
  • Had I not met her husband, I might have believed the accusations.

Past perfect continuous:

  • Had I not been teaching there for a few months, I wouldn’t understand.
  • Had they not been painting the walls, I would have finished.
  • Had it not been raining for hours, we could have returned to the fields.

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For more on the past and present perfect, you may want to check out “Can I Use Present Perfect and Past Perfect in the Same Sentence?

Final Thoughts

We use “Has been” in either the present perfect or the present perfect continuous tense. We use “has been” for third-person nouns and pronouns, while we use “have been” for first- and second-person singular or plural nouns.

On the other hand, we use “had been” for the past perfect tenses regardless of the noun or pronoun.

The continuous tenses all indicate something that began in the past and continued for some time. The present perfect continuous indicates that the action either ended recently or is still ongoing. In contrast, the past perfect continuous indicates an action that continued for a time before ending in the past.