Difference Wiki

Have Been vs. Had Been: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on November 21, 2023
"Have been" is used for actions that started in the past and may continue into the present. "Had been" indicates actions that were completed before another action or time in the past.

Key Differences

"Have been" and "had been" are both verb forms that denote actions or states in relation to time. "Have been" is in the present perfect tense, used to describe actions or states that began in the past and still hold relevance or connection to the present moment. "Had been," on the other hand, falls under the past perfect tense, used to express events or states that occurred before another event in the past.
For clarity, "have been" often communicates an ongoing experience or a general truth. For instance, when someone says, "I have been working for five hours," they mean they started working five hours ago and are still working now. In contrast, "had been" delves deeper into the past. If someone mentions, "I had been working for five hours when he called," they're implying they started working, worked for five hours, and during that time, someone called them.
Grammatical structure is essential when using "have been" and "had been." "Have been" is constructed using the auxiliary verbs "have" or "has" followed by "been" (e.g., I have been, you have been, he/she/it has been). Meanwhile, "had been" consistently uses the auxiliary verb "had" followed by "been" irrespective of the subject.
The choice between "have been" and "had been" can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence. For instance, "I have been to Paris" indicates the speaker went to Paris at some point in their life, holding relevance to the present (maybe they're drawing on their experience). In contrast, "I had been to Paris" implies the speaker's trip to Paris occurred before another past event, like "I had been to Paris before I visited Berlin."
It's worth noting that both "have been" and "had been" are used in passive voice constructions or with the verb "to be" as a main verb. In passive voice, actions are emphasized over who performed them. For instance, "The documents have been processed" versus "The documents had been processed" show present relevance and a past event's sequence, respectively.

Comparison Chart


Present Perfect
Past Perfect


Action/state started in past & continues/relevant now
Action/state happened before another past action/state


I have been reading.
I had been reading when she arrived.

Auxiliary Verb Used With


Common Use

To emphasize the current relevance of a past action or state.
To emphasize the sequence of two past actions or states.

Have Been and Had Been Definitions

Have Been

Depicts a condition or state that still holds true.
He has been ill since Monday.

Had Been

Used in passive voice to highlight actions before another past event.
The room had been cleaned before the guests arrived.

Have Been

Refers to an action or state that began in the past and has relevance to the present.
I have been waiting for an hour.

Had Been

Conveys past actions or states that continued for a while but ended before another past moment.
They had been playing soccer all afternoon before the rain started.

Have Been

Used in passive voice to highlight actions more than performers.
The forms have been completed.

Had Been

Used to emphasize the sequence of two past actions or states.
She had been sleeping when the alarm rang.

Have Been

Denotes experiences or actions that are still applicable now.
We have been to that museum before.

Had Been

Depicts a condition or state that was true and then changed.
He had been the CEO before stepping down.

Have Been

Indicates ongoing past actions or states without a specified ending time.
They have been traveling for months.

Had Been

Indicates an action or state that occurred and completed before another past event.
I had been living in New York before I moved to LA.


Does "have been" imply an action is still ongoing?

Yes, "have been" can indicate an action that started in the past and continues to the present.

And "had been"?

"Had been" is associated with the past perfect tense.

Can both be used in passive constructions?

Yes, both "have been" and "had been" can be used in passive voice constructions.

And the structure for "had been"?

Always use "had" followed by "been," regardless of the subject.

Can "have been" talk about life experiences?

Yes, e.g., "I have been to Spain" indicates a past experience with relevance to the present.

How does "had been" relate to the sequence of past events?

"Had been" emphasizes the order of past events, showing one happened before another.

Does "had been" indicate an action's completion before another past action?

Yes, e.g., "I had been reading when he called" indicates reading started and continued up until the call.

Which tense is "have been" associated with?

"Have been" is associated with the present perfect tense.

When is "had been" typically used?

"Had been" is used to describe something that occurred before another event in the past.

Do both forms always require an ending time?

No, ending times can be omitted for both, making them more indefinite.

Is "have been" more common in daily conversation?

"Have been" is commonly used in daily conversations to denote recent or relevant actions.

Which indicates a longer duration of action in the past: "have been" or "had been"?

Both can indicate prolonged durations, but the context determines the specific length.

What’s the structure for using "have been"?

Use "have" or "has" based on the subject, followed by "been."

How do "has been" and "had been" differ?

"Has been" is third person singular present perfect, while "had been" is past perfect for all subjects.

Which is correct: "They have been happy" or "They had been happy"?

Both are correct, but their meanings differ. The former indicates ongoing happiness, while the latter refers to past happiness before another event.

Can "have been" be used without mentioning the action's start time?

Yes, the start time can be omitted, making the action's beginning ambiguous.

Is it correct to say "I have been had been working"?

No, combining "have been" and "had been" in that manner is grammatically incorrect.

Is it essential to understand the difference between "have been" and "had been"?

Yes, distinguishing between them is vital for clear communication and understanding temporal relationships.

Can "have been" indicate a general life experience?

Yes, e.g., "I have been to concerts" suggests attending concerts in the past with current relevance.

What emotion does "had been" often convey?

"Had been" can convey nostalgia or reflection on past events relative to other past happenings.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons