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Texts
A: "Is he in the office?"
B: "I don't find him."

Question
As far as I Googled, I didn't find the usage like the sentence B quickly.
What's wrong with it? Does it sound very unusual? Is it a wrong usage, or just a little bit strange?

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    It's syntactically fine, just "unusual". In almost all relevant contexts, a native speaker would say I can't find him. Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 13:45
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    Or perhaps "I don't see him". Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 13:49
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    ...it's worth considering the context when backshifted. "Was he there?" "I didn't find him". I think that makes it more obvious that we combine #1 couldn't + find OR #2 didn't + see. Where #1 strongly implies I tried to find him, but #2 might simply mean I didn't happen to see him (but I didn't actually look for him). In the Present Tense, I don't see him implies I've made a "half-hearted" attempt to establish the facts (but probably didn't bother getting out of my chair to actually "search"). Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 13:51

1 Answer 1

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When asking about searches, the response to the question, What did you find? always begins, I found... (past tense). When reporting the results of a search, the search is over and the past tense is used to report the results. To report on what you found as if it is taking place in the present is not common.

I don't find can be used to report a state of mind, since the state of mind can persist into the present. If someone asks what you think about Bob, you might respond.

I don't find him interesting.

That usage of find has nothing to do with searching.

To respond to the question, Is Bob in his office? You would most commonly hear the past tenses didn't --

I didn't find him there.

I couldn't find him there.

It is also idiomatic to say

I can't find him there.

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  • @Stef - Maybe you can help me here. Why does I can't find him there sound like a natural response while I don't find him there sounds like a tense clash. Something to with the usage of can and do but I don't know what it is. Do is immediate and finite whereas can is an expression of consistent ability? Something like that but it eludes me.
    – EllieK
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 14:51
  • We can use didn't for something we failed to do in the past (I searched but didn't find him - I didn't work in my garden yesterday), but we can't always use don't for something we're not doing now (I can't find him - I'm not working). Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 16:38

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