ENGLISCH/827: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (154) gone - gone - going (SB)


154. Difficult tenses

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

...After considering such a long time whether to ask for your advise or not, I wanted to let you know straightaway that I have a lot of difficulties with the right use of the following expressions:

They are gone, they have gone or they are going.

You can't imagine my desparation, when I just can not make up my mind which is the right form in a certain context. Please help.

Yours sincerely,

Susanna H. (from Vienna, Austria)


Dear Miss H.

To get you out of confusion, lets start with the example

"they are gone".

This one describes the fact, that they are simply no longer here. In fact the meaning is almost the same as "they have gone". But "They have gone" emphasizes the fact that they were here but then they left. The result of their leaving is:

They have gone.

Often "they have gone" is part of a scene which goes on to say where they have gone, e.g. "They have gone to America".

When we do not keep the destination we are more likely to say "They are gone" and when we talk about the past we often use "They were gone".

Here another example:

I went to see the dwarf family but they were gone. The little wood house by the roots of the elm was empty and they were never seen again.

This means that we don't know, where they went. We just know, that their house is empty.

Here is a similar example in which we are talking about someone who is no longer there. In this case we would more often use instead of "they were gone" the expression "they had gone".

"I hoped to arrive in time to see him but when I reached their house, they had gone."

We say: "They had gone" because we are comparing the time the speaker arrived with the earlier time, when the people left the house "They had gone".

Now lets look at the last tense, you sent me, "they are going". That can refer to the present, so that they are actually going or walking in this moment, but it more often refers to a plan in the future:

They are going to London

means that "they have a definite plan to go to London."

Hope this will help you with further decisions


Mrs Gobbledygook

26 January 2009