Difference Between Has Been and Was

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023

       

Difference Between Has Been and Was

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Introduction

English Grammar and Vocabulary can be confusing at times. There exist certain rules in grammar particularly related to verbs and tenses that can mess up your understanding of the terms. ‘Verbs’ and ‘Tenses’ are such expansive topics, that students generally find it difficult to crack their actual difference and terminology. Verbs are of different kinds - Transitive verbs, Auxiliary Verbs, Regular Verbs, Irregular Verbs, Intransitive Verbs, and so on.

Before understanding the differences between the two, let us recognize something similar allying them. The similarity between ‘Has Been’ and ‘was’ is that either of them is utilized for singular nouns. For example-

  • James was calling him.
  • She has been going to the gym since Thursday.

To get acquainted with the differences between ‘Has been’ and ‘Was’, we will study specifically both of them in this article to clear the air.

Has Been vs Was

The major difference between ‘Has Been’ and ‘Was’ is the ‘tense’ in which they are applied. They both are Auxiliary verbs but with a distinction. ‘Was’ is an Auxiliary or helping verb, that suggests the Past tense. It pertains to denote some action that was going on in the past. While on the contrary, ‘has been’ is an Auxiliary verb, used in the Present Perfect Continuous tense. This form is used to refer to some action that started in the past and is going on in the present time. They are used in different tenses, that is to say, one is used in the past while the other is utilized in the present tense.

Difference Between Has Been and Was in Tabular Form

Parameters of Comparison Has Been Was
Definition It refers to signify that something began in the past and continued in the present. It is the first and third person singular past tense of ‘be’.
Tense form Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Example – Steve has been playing all day.

Past Continuous Tense

Example – The magician was performing some tricks.

Type of Noun It is applied to refer to a Singular noun. Example- he, she, it, Richard, Sana, etc. It is needed to refer to a first-person singular and third-person singular noun. Example – I, my, he, she, it, Steward, etc.
Category of Helping Verb It comes under the To ‘Have’ category which indicates- an action that began in the past and it is still going on. It comes under the To ‘Be’ category of Helping Verbs to indicate- an action that was happening in the past.
Usage Has Been’ is used to imply an event that occurred in the past and is continuing in the present. Was’ is used to imply an event that occurred in the past and finished in the past itself.
Formula of usage Has + Been + Present participle(-ing) Was + Present Participle(-ing)
Example The baker has been baking the cakes for three hours. I was looking for my socks this evening.

What is ‘Has Been’?

‘Has been’ is used in the present perfect continuous tense.

Look at these sentences:

  • She has been sitting here since three o’clock.
  • He has been watching television for five straight hours.

The italicized words tell us:

  • that the action had started in the past
  • that the action is continuing in the present
  • the duration of the action

The words, ‘has been sitting’ and ‘has been watching’, indicate that the sentence is in the present perfect continuous tense.

Use of ‘Has Been’

Has been is used:

For an action that has just stopped or recently stopped.

For example- He is tired because he has been studying for four hours.

It means that – He is tired now because he has been studying and has just stopped.

For an action continuing up to now.

For example- He has been studying for four hours.

It suggests that - He started studying in the past and is continuing.

To describe an action that finished a short while ago, but its consequences occur in the present.

For example- The child is tired because he has been playing the whole morning.

To express anger, irritation, or annoyance.

Who has been taking things from my table?

Structure for use of ‘Has Been’

The structure of a sentence when using ‘Has been’:

Subject + has + been + main verb (base+ ing)

Example – She has been resting.

              Subject                   Main verb

To form questions:

  • Has + Subject + been + main verb (base+ ing)

Example – Has the patient been taking the wrong medicines for years?

  • Question word + has + subject + been + main verb (base + ing)

Example – Why has the patient been taking the wrong medicines?

Points to Remember:

  • ‘Has Been’ is used for various purposes, for instance- to describe the present situation of an action, interrogative sentences, the passive voice of sentences, etc. Therefore, maneuvre it judiciously.
  • The use of ‘has been’ in interrogative sentences needs to be understood. While using ‘Has been’ in interrogative sentences, we expect that the person questioned can see, hear or smell the consequences of an action.

For example – Has she been swimming?

It means the person needs to see and tell whether she is swimming or not.

  • When ‘Has Been’ is used in a sentence it considers two important points that are transpiring in the situation. Firstly, the action has happened in the past. Secondly, its consequences can be felt in the present situation.
  • ‘Has’ falls under the ‘To Have’ category of Auxiliary or Helping verbs and ‘Been’ comes under the ‘To Be’ category. Two different Auxiliary verbs come together to form one tense.

What is ‘Was’?

The verb ‘Was’ tells us about an action that was happening in the past.

‘Was’ is a Helping or Auxiliary verb of the past tense. It comes under the ‘To Be’ category of Helping Verbs. Helping verbs of the past tense show an action or a state of being in the past tense. For example –

  • Rowena was playing hockey on the field.
  • Tanvi was singing very loudly.

Some other helping verbs of the past are- were, did, and had.

Now, look at these sentences:

  • I was studying for an hour.
  • Harry was sitting at home when the phone rang.
  • I was talking to my mother while she was cooking.

The words italicized tell us that the actions were taking place at some time before the time of speaking or they were interrupted. This tells us that the verbs in these sentences are in the Past continuous tense. The Past Continuous Tense describes actions or events in a time in the past, which began in the past and were on-going until another event occurred. The past continuous tense is structured by using the helping verb ‘was’ in front of the –ing form of the main verb in the sentence.

For example,

  • I was watching a movie the previous evening.
  • Geeta was walking to the store yesterday.

Use of ‘Was’

‘Was’ is used to indicate:

a longer action that was interrupted by a shorter action – in such situations, the time expression when is used.

Example: The girl was playing outside when it began to rain.

Liza was reading the newspaper when the doorbell rang.

two progressive actions happening at the same time with the time expression while.

Example: The child was studying while the father was preparing snacks for him.

The car exploded while I was walking past it.

a progressive action occurring at a specific time in the past.

Example: At 4 o’clock I was writing my exam.

I was shopping for some groceries last night.

descriptions being added to a narration.

Example: It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining brightly in the sky and the butterfly was sitting on the colorful petals of the flower.

to express a change of mind/opinion.

Example: I was going to read a book, but I decided to complete my work.

to make a polite request at times.

Example: I was wondering if you could lend me your dress.

to refer to something that was in the future when the statement was made.

Example: Deepti promised she was going to call me to finalize the deal.

for an action that started in the past but hasn’t ended.

Example: At 10 p.m., I was sending a report. (At 10 p.m. I was in the middle of sending a report.)

to describe a background or create the setting for a story.

Example: The music was playing in the background when the hero entered.

Action        before now (began in the past)       still going on (when another event occurred)

Structure for the Use of ‘Was’

The structure of a sentence when using ‘Was’:

Subject + was + main verb (base+ ing)

Example – He was resting.

              Subject       Main verb

For Positive sentences:

Subject + was + base verb + ing

Example: She was playing with her dog.

For Negative sentences:

Subject + wasn’t + base verb + ing

Example: She wasn’t playing with her dog.

For Interrogative sentences

Was + Subject + base verb + ing +?

Example: Was she playing with her dog?

For Interrogative Negative sentences

Was not + Subject + base verb + ing +?

Example: Wasn’t she playing with the dog?

Points to Remember

  • The verb ‘Was’ is a simple past of ‘Be’. It states that an action has already occurred in the past.
  • It only refers to the occurrence of an event in the past and does not show its present scenario.
  • It is used with first-person singular forms and third-person singular forms. For example- I, me, he, she, it, child, a girl, and so on.
  • It is also used when the simple past and past continuous tense are used together in a sentence. Example- When I saw him; he was walking on the street.
  • ‘Was’ is also used to point out some persistent habit.

Main Difference Between Has Been and Was In Points

  • The major difference is that ‘Has Been’ is used in Present Perfect Continuous Tense whereas ‘Was’ is used in Past Continuous Tense. Both belong to two different tenses i.e. Present and Past.
  •  ‘Has Been’ indicates the occurrence of an event and its effect whereas ‘Was’ indicates only the occurrence of an action, not its consequences
  • ‘Was’ is used with the first person as well as the third person singular, on the other hand, ‘Has Been’ is used with only the first person singular.
  • ‘Has been’ also indicates the present status of an event that happened in the past. ‘Was’ on the other hand, does not tell about the present status.
  • ‘Was’ indicates the completion of an event in the past itself whereas ‘has been’ indicates the continuation of an event.

Conclusion

While summarising this article and highlighting the main difference between ‘Has Been’ and ‘Was’, a major distinction that comes out is of their tenses. ‘Has been’ shows that something started in the past and is still going on at present. It belongs to the Present Perfect Continuous Tense.

‘Was’ indicates that an action continued for some time in the past but did not continue in the present. Therefore, ‘Was’ is used in the Past Continuous Tense. 

Some words like ‘recently’ and ‘lately’ are used to signify time while using ‘Has been’.

Example: Has he been drinking too much lately?

Words like ‘continually’ and ‘always’ are used to show some persistent habit while using ‘Was’.

Example: He was always going to the club.

In conclusion, ‘Was’ is used for an action that began in the past and continued in the past for a short period. ‘Has been’ indicates that an action that had started in the past and is continuing in the present time. Both are Auxiliary verbs but belong to different tenses. One belongs to Present Perfect Continuous Tense and the other belongs to Past Continuous Tense.

I hope this article has covered all the points and cleared your doubts and confusion regarding the difference between ‘Has been’ and ‘Was’.

References

  • Essentials of English Grammar and Composition by Rajendra Pal and H.C. Katyal

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