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Two days ago I tried to order a book but could not pay because your system did not accept/ has not accepted paypal payments yet.

if I choose to add yet with past simple it means that at the time of writing they still don't accept paypal payment but it has been planned . Past simple because it is a precise moment in the past.

Would it be possible top use present perfect because the situation has not changed yet even if it also been planned .

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  • "Your system does not/cannot accept Paypal payments yet" (but is expected to do so in the future). Has not accepted doesn't convey the sense that it isn't designed to do so. Did not yet would imply that it has started to accept them since then. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 14:24
  • why has not accepted yet does not convey the sense that it isn't designed to do so . I thought that present perfect wit yet means that it is expected to do so
    – Yves Lefol
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 15:18
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    You should be careful about including yet in this past tense context. For most people in most contexts, yet means before/until now. It often doesn't work at all well when it's supposed to mean before then (that point in past time). Especially in things like the cited context, where most likely what wasn't available in the past still isn't available at time of speaking. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 15:21
  • so present perfect will be better (does it match with 2 days ago?)
    – Yves Lefol
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 15:33
  • "[It] has not accepted [the payment] yet" suggests that you expected it to do so when you placed the order, and are still waiting. This isn't appropriate if you know that the system is unable to accept Paypal. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 16:10

2 Answers 2

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I read your question and also the comments. As a native English speaker, here is how I would write that statement, plus a few more lines to finish the email:

Two days ago I tried to order a book but could not pay because your system did not yet accept paypal payments. I need to know if my payment went through since then. Please let me know.

You are writing now (in the present) about an event that happened two days ago.

Event: ordered a book but could not pay

Past tense:

  • I tried to order
  • could not pay
  • did not yet accept

I use past simple because we are talking about a specific moment in the past when you tried to pay. That moment is over, complete, finished. See Cambridge Dictionary for description of past simple vs past continuous.

The Word Yet

There is no hard and fast rule regarding whether the word "yet" should be added at the end or inserted into the verb. However, when it is inserted between "not" and "accept" like I did, it is very clear that you mean it was not happening yet but is expected to happen in the future. If you tack it onto the end, readers might not be sure what it refers to. See example below.

Present Perfect

In case you still have questions, I will explain why present perfect does not work.

Two days ago I tried to order a book but could not pay because your system has not accepted paypal payments yet.

This is confusing because:

  1. at first you say it happened two days ago.
  2. then you say that in the present the system has not yet accepted your payment.

your system has not accepted paypal payments

Because this is present, this implies that you have been trying repeatedly (since your first attempt two days ago) and in all cases their system has failed to accept paypal payments.

HOWEVER, you use the past simple for "could not pay." You're mixing tenses.

To clarify, let's analyze the tenses of this sentence.

  • Two days ago: past
  • I tried to order a book: past simple
  • but could not pay: past simple
  • because your system has not accepted paypal payments: present perfect
  • yet: unclear, since the other tenses are confused.

Inserting Yet in Verb for Clarity

It would be clearer what is meant by "yet" if inserted into the verb thus: has not yet accepted. That does not make the sentence correct but it would help rectify the confusion of the present perfect.

Just so you know, Native English speakers make this mistake all the time, which is how I learned to look for little things like this.

A good question to ask yourself if you are confused regarding present perfect and past simple is: How do you know if it happened two days ago? Have you tried it again since then?

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  • 1. The position of the adverb yet can go either at the end of before the verb. It's irrelevant. 2. This answer lacks sources and if you look at the corpus, in fact, syntactically, the past continuous would be the appropriate tense. Of course, it's nitpicky and you could get away with the past simple, but if try to use Sarah's logic in other situations, you'll be creating awkward sentences. Please see sources from the corpus in my answer below. Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 18:08
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TL:DR; The answer is past continuous

You sentence should read:

Two days ago, I tried to order a book but could not pay because your system was not accepting PayPal payments yet.

Edit: I have used the American Corpus) to research this answer after the fact, using the searches: "did not work", "was not working" and "did not accept"

I believe that I have given the most correct phrasing. The phrasing with "did not accept" is highly problematic because it implies that the system rejected the concept of PayPal payments and does not fit with the adverb "yet."

You can see how the phrasing of the wording "did not accept" is used in real textual examples across multiple sources on the corpus (not possible to link).

You can also see how "was not accepting" is the correct choice and is used for just such situations here. Not possible to link.

Please read this explanation to understand why. I hope this is helpful.

Why your logic is appropriate

You are correct to think that a perfect tense would be appropriate, not only because of the adverb "yet," but also because you have an action in the past at which you are only looking in terms of completion (whether something has or has not been done).

Why the present perfect (and past perfect) fail

Considering that the past perfect is only appropriate when an action is looked at in terms of completion, it does not work with time markers. In other words, you cannot say that something was done at a particular point in the past with the present perfect. The same goes with the past perfect in the sense that you need a point of reference in the past to which compare it to.

Let's break down the events

  1. You tried to order a book two days ago.
  2. At that point, you could not order it.
  3. You could not order it because the system wasn't working.
  4. The system was working after you tried to order it.

First of all, let's consider a couple of minor corrections to this sentence.

Point 1. "Two days ago" is an adverbial phrase and needs to either be placed at the end of a sentence without commas or at the start, followed by a comma ("Two days ago,...")

Point 3. If you say something didn't work, it means that particular action was attempted and failed.

Let's look at an example:

I tried to open the door, but it didn't work.

The action of opening didn't work meaning that I probably didn't have the key or the door was broken.

I tried to open the door, but it wasn't working.

My action was correct, but there was something wrong with the door.

Let's do another example, just for clarity.

Giving her flowers didn't work. She is still angry with me.

Using the verb "work" in the past simple refers to specific individual actions.

If you want to refer to a system you have to use the continuous tense because that state is continuous (in the present, this does not apply).

I couldn't do my homework last night because my computer wasn't working.

Still doubting? Would it be correct to say:

Yesterday, my computer didn't work.

(answer: no, it wouldn't be)

Alright! I hope that as a reader you are as excited as I am because now we have a identified a problematic part of the sentence that can be quickly and logically fixed.

Why past continuous is the solution

because your system did not accept/ has not accepted paypal payments yet.

Since with the verb accept we are referring to a function or action, that same rule from the verb "work" applies. You are referring to a system, which means you need to refer to it as a state of continuity in the past. So the statement needs to be rephrased to the past continuous.

Correction: because your system was not accepting paypal payments yet.

Conclusion

The complete correct sentence would be:

Two days ago, I tried to order a book but could not pay because your system was not accepting PayPal payments yet.

Rules that apply here:

  • When referring to the operation of something in the past use past continuous.
  • The adverb "yet" is not problematic as it can be used in the past, present, or future.
  • When referring to the operation of something in the present it doesn't matter whether you use continuous or simple tenses.
  • When an action fails, you can use past simple or present perfect according to the rules of each of those tenses.
  • Similarly, the past perfect can be used in with failed actions, and past perfect continuous would be suitable for systems.

Sources

Corpus of American English: https://www.english-corpora.org/coca/

Search 1: "was not working"

  1. ...is off topic, but your contact link was not working.

  2. ... it was fine except that the shower was not working correctly (Room 760) ie. the water temperature could not be controlled.

  3. ...The device simply was not working one morning. So I searched online for a replacement and thought I was...

Search 2: Did not work

I built 2 websites with SBI and they did not work. I must say it wasn't Site Build it's fault but mine ... I must say I made more money ... from Amway, Melaluca, Pre-paid legal, Primerica

Here the websites did not work because they did not do the job they were meant to do, make money. It doesn't mean that they weren't operating. It means, that the attempt of "making a website" failed.

Apple was never able to dent the Windows monopoly, so they flanked it. Windows did not work on phones and tablets so Apple created a separate OS and made it the standard for mobile devices.

In this case, the meaning of "did not work" does not mean that windows was not operating on mobile devices. In other words, it's no a question of technical problems. It means that it was not at all adapted to them.

Your enclosed URL did not work, would you be so kind to resend this to web site to us?

Meaning: The URL did not take us to where we were supposed to go. You would say the "URL was not working" if you knew you had the correct URL, but the system was down.

The major reason that the discounts did not work is because the toys were not " hot. "

Meaning: The act of using discounts did not create the desired effect.

Did not accept vs. was not accepting

Originally, some scientists did not accept its validity, believing that all habilis specimens should be assigned to either the australopithecines

...who could not log-in to a laptop because the server or the computer was not accepting their username and password. The problem should be resolved next week.

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  • I am not sure that the system is working now because since then I have not retried to order the book . Thanks for very your clear answer
    – Yves Lefol
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 7:09
  • It is grammatically correct to say "Yesterday my computer didn't work." Example: Friend says, "I expected a prompt answer to my email." I answer, "According to the timestamp your email came yesterday. Yesterday my computer didn't work. I had to wait till today for the technician. It works now and I replied first thing." It is perhaps more common to say "wasn't working," but "didn't work" is correct, especially if in my mind it is over and done with and I just want to forget about it. Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 14:32
  • @Sarah, grammatically it is correct. However, in terms of syntax it sounds like your computer was the task and it "didn't work". If you "were doing something" last night it would be equally "over and done with", though I wouldn't consider that as a useful grammatical classification for past tenses. Do you have any sources where you have seen this used other than your own experience? Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 19:29
  • Having lived all my life in Canada, I'm not used to checking if the syntax of our local everyday speech is in line with official sources. In the context, all parties know that the computer wasn't the task, nor does it make sense. Likewise, with regards to schedules, people commonly say, "I didn't work last week, I was off." It may be a bit sloppy but people do speak that way all the time. Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 0:15
  • While you may find that people speak this way or that, the problem is that each person is just one source. When you look at a corpus, you're looking at what hundreds of people say. The fact that you've lived all your life in Canada, where I have also lived most of my life, by the way, may also mean that you may not be aware of how other English speakers speak and what your regional idiosyncrasies are. If you read my updated answer, you'll see how when one says "the website did not work" has a completely different meaning to "the website was not working". Try the corpus, it's a fun tool. Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 18:59

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