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I'm waiting for an email answer from another person. And then I'm writing to him a question asking whether he is going to answer:

Me: Are you going to answer?

Person: I've answered to you already.

Me: Oh, I'm sorry, I haven't seen your email. I've just found it. It has fallen into the Span folder.

Is it correct to say "I haven't seen your email" in this situation?

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    "I hadn't seen your letter" seems to fit better – Ayxan Jan 8 at 20:27
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    Despite having posted an answer myself, I'm voting to close for lack of sufficient background detail. A lot of time has been spent on this page speculating about possible contextual nuances - some of which might be irrelevant, but many of which could be crucial to the choice of tense. And frankly, given that neither the OP nor any other users here have been able to establish the precise context and/or edit the question to unambiguously describe it, I think the whole thing has just degenerated into a bike-shedding exercise, illuminating very little for learners. – FumbleFingers Jan 9 at 13:13
  • @FumbleFingers I've added more details to my question. – Alexey Jan 10 at 9:19
  • I'd say you've radically changed the context, rather than "added more details"! – FumbleFingers Jan 10 at 13:23
22

Both are “haven’t seen” and “didn’t see” can be correct.

I would use the first one (“haven’t seen”) if the letter is still unaccounted for.

I would use the second one (“didn’t see”) if the letter was eventually found, but you are replying late because you hadn’t seen it as soon as expected.

In your example, though, you’ve found the letter, so you should use the second one:

Hi, I'm sorry, I didn't see your letter. I've just found it. How are you?

But the first one could work in a context like this:

Hi, I'm sorry, I haven't seen your letter. I don’t know where it could be. How are you?

  • OP's original text was "I'm just found it" and it was correctly edited by FumbleFingers changing it to "I've just found it" but ... would be "I just found it" also correct in this case? – RubioRic Jan 8 at 14:36
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    @RubioRic Either one seems fine to me. I would say there are two ways they differ in connotation: 1) "I just found it" conveys slightly more immediacy, that you found it and then immediately started writing. 2) "I've just found it" lightly implies that you found it after searching, rather than just by chance. Realistically they're interchangeable though. – Kamil Drakari Jan 8 at 15:32
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    In BrE 'I just found it' means that the only thing you did with respect to the letter was to find it (as distinct from lose it, burn it, throw it away, or any of all the other things that you might do with a letter). In colloquial English 'I just found it' might well be an abbreviation of 'I've just found it '. – JeremyC Jan 8 at 22:39
  • @Jeremy - When I wrote my answer, I was imagining something along the lines of: I've just (recently) stumbled across it. In other words, the letter came, and I meant to open it, but I got distracted, and I set it down someplace where it sat "out of sight, out of mind" for some length of time, until by chance I happened to spot it again, thereby prompting the response the OP composed: Hi, I'm sorry, I didn't see (or read) your letter. I've just found it. How are you? – J.R. Jan 8 at 22:50
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    @J.R. I have no problem with "I've just found" it nor indeed with any part of your answer. I was questioning the idea, not yours, that "I just found it" = "I've just found it". – JeremyC Jan 8 at 22:54
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Which version to use? Neither! This is one of those contexts1 where most native speakers would feel they have to use the Past Perfect...

Hi, I'm sorry, I hadn't seen your letter. I've just found it. How are you?

Present Perfect (I haven't seen it) doesn't make sense here, because that always implies from the Past up to and including the Present. Which clearly can't be correct, since the speaker goes on to say I've just found it.

The only way it could make sense with Present Perfect would be if we assume the speaker meant he hadn't actually read the letter (even though he's seen it, so knows that he has in fact received it). But in normal contexts everyone would always understand seeing a letter as equivalent to reading it, unless the speaker went out of his way to clarify the fact that he hadn't actually done the second thing (for example, Sorry, I haven't actually read your letter [yet] - I['ve] only just found it.


1 Revisiting this answer, I realise that arguably I was "suckered" into assuming what might actually be a somewhat contrived context. Per my comment below (which might get deleted at some point), the fact that the apology was "spliced" into the standard "initial greeting" rhetorical question Hi, how are you? made me suppose the speaker was responding to the other person having already referenced the letter in his introductory utterance - maybe something like Hi, this is Mr Smith. I'm calling to see if you've got any recommendations for the problem I wrote you about.

In that context, it seems at least reasonable to me (but arguably not necessary) to use Past Perfect to reflect the fact that failing to have actually read it was a "sin of omission" effectively committed earlier than the (very recent) finding of the letter.

But that's just my take.

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    I think many native speakers (myself included) would use "didn't see". – Barmar Jan 8 at 16:57
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    I also would say "I just found it" rather than "I've just found it" -- they seem indistinguishable to me. – Barmar Jan 8 at 16:58
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    I'd say it like this but I doubt most would. These days probably more like "peng yeah got ur letter bruv, lost it for mad long time innit" – Lightness Races with Monica Jan 8 at 17:17
  • American from Michigan, I've literally never heard anyone say or write hadn't in this way... grammatically correct, but not in common use in my experience. But I honestly think hadn't + PP is the exception here - it's fallen out of favor. I would definitely use have --> past + PP as in the last sentence, "I haven't actually read your letter..." @LightnessRacesinOrbit here's to hoping that you're trying to imitate British youth... – Chris Cirefice Jan 8 at 17:19
  • Looking again at this question, I've realised that the precise context I'd imagined isn't necessarily the most likely one (and OP doesn't go into details on that front). Given that the speaker actually "interrupts" what would otherwise be the standard ice-breaking introductory pleasantry Hi. How are you? I just assumed How are you? was a genuine enquiry rather than a rhetorical question. So I imagined the speaker was actually responding to the other person calling to ask for a "progress report" on some personal problem he'd written about earlier (and assumed OP had read). – FumbleFingers Jan 8 at 17:53

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