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I try to open a webpage. After I click it, I see nothing but a message telling me the page has been moved. So at this moment I say,

I didn't find the page I was looking for.

I don't find the page I'm looking for.

Which tense is correct?

I know present simple is used to indicate a habit or routine or something you do now and then. It can also state a general fact or truth.

However, it also describes something happening now. Let's suppose I'm standing before you, I can say, "I give this to you". So, I'm wondering whether it (not finding) was happening right after I opened the page.

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  • Do you know the difference between simple past and present simple, generally speaking? In particular, do you know what present simple means?
    – gotube
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 3:24
  • Yes, probably. Present simple is used to indicate a habit or routine or something you do now and then. It can also state a general fact or truth. However, it also describes something happening now. Let's supposed I'm standing before you, I can say, I give this to you. So, in my post, I was thinking whether it (not finding) was happening right after I opened the page.
    – Stephen
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 4:06

2 Answers 2

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Only the simple past is correct here, not the present simple.

It's true that you can say, "I give this to you" while you're giving someone something. But that usage of present simple is only used in highly formal situations, and the function is to officially declare what is happening, so the words themselves are an action. Take these examples:

“We the jury find the defendant, Jason Van Dyke, guilty” (declaration in a criminal trial)

I hereby name as sole executor of my estate my closest male relative Mr. George Harryman (from someone's last will and testament)

I declare open the games of Tokyo celebrating the 32nd Olympiad of the modern era --Emperor of Japan

So in your example of giving something while saying, "I give this to you", it means by saying those words, you are officially declaring the gift, not just describing your actions.

Being unable to find a web page cannot be declared, and the situation does not appear formal enough to require an official declaration.

The simple past works fine here

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  • Thank you very much. But I have another example: As I see the red light, I stop my car.
    – Stephen
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 7:21
  • @Stephen Could be a number of things. What's the context?
    – gotube
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 7:25
  • Here are two examples: 1. Father: Hey son, why do you look at me instead of eating your food? Son: Because I see a bug on your head. 2. (The son isn't doing his homework) Father: Why don't you do your homework? Son: Because I don't feel well. I think the continuous is also fine, or finer: 1. Why are you looking at me instead of eating....2. Why aren't you doing your homework? Because I'm not feeling well.
    – Stephen
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 8:04
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    The first example sounds like it's at least 120 years old. Today the father would say, "Why are you looking at me...". "Why don't you..." is a suggestion. The third example describes a current state, which is a normal function of present simple, and not the same function that you're asking about with the website
    – gotube
    Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 8:15
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It seems to me that this is not only a question of tense (as someone else has already addressed) but also of verb. In your examples, “did” and “do” are helping verbs, which can extend the main verb’s meaning in several ways. In this case, “did” and “do” are auxiliary verbs and help with expressing timeframe. The correct version of your second sentence would be

I can’t find the page I’m looking for.

Here, “can” is actually a modal verb. “Do not” and “can not” mean very different things, especially when they’re in present simple tense. “Do not find” implies that it is be possible to find it, but for whatever reason, that’s not happening. “Can not” means that you want to find it, but are unable to.

On the other hand, “did not” and “could not” mean different things, but have a similar effect on the present. Whether there was an obstacle to finding it or you simply chose not to, the present scenario is that you have not found it.

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