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Is it correct to say (1a):

Mary has not phoned since yesterday.

Or should it be rather said (1b):

Mary has not phoned since the day before.

Similarly (2a):

They haven't returned since last night.

Or (2b):

They haven't returned since the previous night.

Sentence 1a sounds more natural to me (sentence 2a a bit less) but seem incorrect because 'yesterday' should be used in Past Simple.
Sentences 1b and 2b on the contrary - seem gramatically correct but sound a bit unnatural.

Please advise how to express these ideas in the best way.

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"Mary has not phoned since yesterday" means that from yesterday until this moment, Mary hasn't phoned. The timeline started in the past and continues into the present, hence the use of the present perfect. If Mary phoned yesterday, the call took place yesterday. This is past time and in that case past simple is used.

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It is all the (b)s in this case. Whenever you use reported speech, you must use the past/present perfect, depending on the sentence. All the (a)s are direct speeches. However, when you are trying to report it, you must convert direct speech to reported speech to ensure that the sentence sounds and is grammatically correct.

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1a and 2a are correct and easy to understand.

1b and 2b are trickier. The words "before" and "previous" need objects to know before what, and previous to what. So, "the day before" and "the previous day" both mean "the day before something". The something should be understood from the context. They do NOT mean "yesterday". Example:

Mary's father says, "I want to ask Mary about her job interview, but she hasn't called since the day before."

This means Mary hasn't called since the day before her interview, so he hasn't been able to ask her yet.

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