My questions are about being able to use a past time expression in a Present/Past Perfect tense.

An excerpt from: http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/presentperfect.html

We use the Present Perfect to say that an action happened at an unspecified time before now. The exact time is not important. You CANNOT use the Present Perfect with specific time expressions such as: yesterday, one year ago, last week, when I was a child, when I lived in Japan, at that moment, that day, one day, etc.

My example #1: First Conversation for sending on same day:

Boss: Have you sent that email?

Me: Yes, I have sent that email.

Boss: When?

Me: Today.

Boss: Ok.

My example #2: Second Conversation for sending on previous day:

Boss: Have you sent that email?

Me: Yes, I have sent that email.

Boss: When?

Me: Yesterday. (Or Last week or when i was in Japan etc.)

Boss: Ok.

My questions are:

  1. Are both conversations correct?

  2. Can I use a time expression in my answers to avoid the 2nd question from my boss?

  • you are correct F.E.
    – user4084
    Sep 15, 2014 at 5:55

3 Answers 3


Both of your original conversations look fine. And yes, you can combine your responses into one. Here are some possible candidates.

For example #1:

  • "Yes, I have already sent that email (out) today."

  • "Yes, I had sent that email (out) earlier today."

For example #2:

  • "Yes, I have already sent that email (out) yesterday."

  • "Yes, I had sent that email (out) yesterday."

  • "Yes, I had sent that email (out) last week."

  • "Yes, I had sent that email (out) when I was in Japan."

NOTE: In your excerpt, there is "You CANNOT use the Present Perfect with specific time expressions such as: yesterday, . . ." <== But that is not really true. Your excerpt is an overgeneralized "rule" which is not always true. There are some conditions when past-time adjuncts (such as "yesterday") can be used in a present-perfect construction. For instance, there is a counter-example in CGEL, page 144, [13.ii.a] :

  • "We've already discussed it yesterday."

ASIDE: Here is a post with some info on the present perfect construction (though, unfortunately, it probably isn't directly related to your question) : What's the meaning of this present perfect sentence?

NOTE: CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

  • 1
    All of your examples sound unidiomatic to me, including the one from CGEL. I think you would only use the pluperfect 'had sent' if the perfect tense description occurred in the past: 'My boss asked if I had sent the email and I told him I had sent it yesterday', or 'I had already sent the email yesterday but she said she hadn't received it, so I sent it again today'.
    – nekomatic
    Sep 15, 2014 at 10:50
  • 1
    +1 Your examples there do cause my British grammaticality ear to twitch a bit though, although I know that the Survey of English Usage is recording an upsurge in what they refer to as the footballers perfect ... Will have to scour the H&P if I get a chance ... Sep 18, 2014 at 1:12
  • 1
    @Araucaria The context should probably also be looked at: Have you sent the e-mail (and if so, when did you send it)?” I had thought a bit about this the other day, and sorta think that the context (the boss's question) will probably influence whether a simple past-tense or a perfect will be used by the employee. E.g. Did you send the e-mail (and if so, when did you send it)?” "Yes, I sent that email yesterday."
    – F.E.
    Sep 18, 2014 at 1:22
  • 1
    I don't think there's any restrictions on using definite time phrases with the preterite perfect, even in BE as far as I know. Re the present perfect, over here I'd expect to hear: A - Have you sent it?. B - Yes, I sent it yesterday!. But that might be a pond thingy. Not sure .. :) Sep 18, 2014 at 1:28
  • 1
    @Araucaria It could also depend on how important that having sent the email is to the current now-ness. For when that past time event is important to the current discourse, then a speaker might prefer to use the present-perfect to emphasize it -- for the present-perfect makes the present time reference explicit via the use of the present-tense in "have". Well, that's CGEL's rationale too (and them be BrE, in my eyes).
    – F.E.
    Sep 18, 2014 at 1:50

The present perfect is related to the simple present in meaning as well as form, in that it describes the situation that currently prevails: so when you say "I have already sent it", you mean that at the present moment the act of sending it is complete and finished. It's because you're fundamentally referring to the present time that it doesn't make sense to use a time expression related to the past.

Your examples sound ok to me, but that's because there's a spoken dialogue going on. When your boss says "When?", (s)he is really saying "When did you send it?", not "when have you sent it?". Similarly if you expanded your one-word answer you would say "I sent it yesterday". With respect to @F.E., "I have already sent that email out yesterday" sounds wrong to my ear. "I have already sent it today" sounds correct, but in that case "today" is referring to a period of time in which you have completed the action, not the instant at which you did it; you would use that construction if you had to send an e-mail every day, and you were confirming that you have sent today's e-mail already.

Edit: For the second part of your question: I would say "Yes, I sent it today/yesterday".


When your boss is asking if the e-mail is sent, you know from experience that he also wants to know when, even though it isn’t explicitly part of the question. So his question is actually

“Have you sent the e-mail (and if so, when did you send it)?”

Since you’ve already sent the e-mail, you can simply answer the second, unstated portion, which uses simple past tense. Your answer will also use the simple past.

"Yes, I sent it this morning/yesterday/last week."

The phrase “I had sent" would be used when you are talking about the conversation later.

“My boss was reminding me to send an e-mail, but I had sent it yesterday.”

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