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I came across a Chinese web site selling skirts and then paid for two skirts in different colors. After I had paid for the skirts, I sent a short message to them:

please let me know when you send them to me.

And the Chinese seller made this reply to me: I don't know when will send to you.

I have no idea what is wrong with my simple sentence. Did I make any big grammartical mistakes in the sentence that made the seller think I was asking for the exact date and time when they would start to send the goods to me? I wanted a notification from them so that I could predict when my goods would arrive, I did not rush them. Could it be that they mixed up my message with this one or it was my mistake?

please let me know when you will send them to me.

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    unambiguously, "Please notify me when the order has been dispatched [& possible ETA (estimated time of arrival, international abbreviation)]" – Tetsujin Feb 3 '15 at 20:48
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    Send in your sentence refers to future time. There is not really a "future tense" in English; that is, we don't add certain endings to infinitives to indicate the future. So, if you want to use the word "tense", one can say send here is in the future tense. Or one can say it has the present tense form but "future tense" meaning. Which is why I avoid "future tense" and use "future time." Thus, send in your sentence is present tense form but is used to refer to "future time" (as do over a dozen other forms in English including will send). – user6951 Feb 3 '15 at 22:36
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    As a non-native speaker who has communicated with lots of other non-native speakers. I'd like to suggest phrasing it with "once", and making sure that the condition comes first, and probably clarifying the purpose a bit, e.g. Once you ship the skirts, please email me (so I could predict when my goods would arrive). (Arguably, please email me is non-standard, but perhaps it's easier to understand than let me know or notify me or even send me an email.) – Damkerng T. Feb 3 '15 at 23:57
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    On second thought, I think this is even simpler: On the day that you ship the skirts, please email me. – Damkerng T. Feb 4 '15 at 0:36
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    To be clear, if you had been writing to a native speaker, your sentence would have been understood perfectly well. It is grammatical and clear to someone who is fluent in English. The many helpful comments regarding communication with other non-native speakers who are less fluent than you are great, but I want to be sure to point out that your only real fault was assuming fluency in your message's recipient. – Jason Patterson Feb 4 '15 at 2:45
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Please let me know when you have shipped them is unambiguous but requires the shipper to understand " when you have shipped them".

"Please notify me when they have been shipped" is unambiguous but requires the shipper to understand "when they have been shipped".

Please send a postal tracking number if available, or a shipping notice with ETA uses nouns common to international online retail, so it is more likely to be understood than any sentence whose meaning depends on the verb tense, or on the shipper's understanding a phrase such as "at the time".

  • +1 - dry, but practical.. & least open to misinterpretation. [In native > native conversation, of course, the misunderstanding would have been far less likely in the first place] – Tetsujin Feb 3 '15 at 20:43
  • Good sellers can also help, regardless of the language barrier. What honest, competent seller would reply "I don't know when I will ship them"? Your guess, dear buyer, is as good as mine. :-) – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 4 '15 at 14:58
19

It sounds like they misunderstood you.

"Please let me know when you send them to me" is perfectly fine for what you were trying to say, but if his English isn't very good or he doesn't think you can speak very good English he may just assume you meant to use the future tense.

Here's an alternative:

When you send them to me, please let me know.

That's a lot more unambiguous. Again, your grammar was fine, but this alternative will be a lot more clear to him.

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    @kitty No worries :) – Mark Feb 3 '15 at 17:55
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Unfortunately, yes, your question for the seller was ambiguous, even though it was grammatically correct. It could have been interpreted several ways. Most probably you meant something like this:

At the time you ship my items, please notify me.

This makes most sense from a strictly grammatical standpoint. Reversing the two parts of the sentence without any rewriting gives, "When you send [the items] to me, please let me know".

However, it could easily have been interpreted as something like:

I want to know, right now, what the expected ship date of my items is.

It is not unrealistic for someone to have interpreted "when you send" as "when you will send". This is not a grammatically correct reading of your question, but it is a common enough mistake.

Your second sentence is correct if you wanted to know the ship date. However, my personal preference if you want a notification at the time your items ship is:

At the time my items ship, please notify me.

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    What would you suggest as an alternative to what she said? "Please let me know once you've sent them to me", maybe? – Mark Feb 3 '15 at 18:10
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    An excellent point. Edited to include an actual answer. Note that I submitted this only because I started writing before your answer came in. I do think your answer is complete. – Jonathan Garber Feb 3 '15 at 18:15
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    I don't think that "please let me know when you send them to me" can actually mean "I want to know, right now, what the expected ship date of my items is", because then it would have to use a future-time construction such as "when you will send" or "when you are going to send". ("When you send them to me", as an interrogative content clause, corresponds to the question "When do you send them to me?". There are contexts where that is possible, but the OP's is not one of them.) – ruakh Feb 3 '15 at 21:30
  • @ruakh Fundamentally I agree, with one exception: if the action is repetitive. I could say "Let me know when you go to work" and mean "Let me know right now what time you traditionally go to work." If OP bought things from here regularly (which I don't think occurs, but hypothetically), their question "Please let me know when you send them to me" could be interpreted as "Let me know right now what time/day you ship your orders out each week." – Nerrolken Feb 5 '15 at 1:22
  • @Nerrolken: I'm not sure why you call that "one exception". I would call that "a different situation". As I said, there are contexts where the question "When do you send them to me?" makes sense, but the OP's is not one of them. – ruakh Feb 5 '15 at 1:37
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I actually think that the misunderstanding may be from his reply, rather than your request.

When the seller says, "I don't know when will send to you", he could just be the "messenger" who verifies payment and puts all sales in a queue. Somebody else will take that queue and get the items ready for shipping, and somebody else will actually ship them.

He might just be saying the equivalent to:

"I will not know when (they) have shipped your items." (because he is probably not the one who sends them)

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Please let me know when you send them to me.

This is natural, normal and reasonably unambiguous to most native speakers. It is asking the person who receives this message to inform the person writing it that 'they' are being sent. The request is for this information to be sent in the future, at the same time as 'they' are sent.

Please let me know when you have sent them to me.

This is also natural, normal and reasonably unambiguous to most native speakers. It is asking the person who receives this message to inform the person writing it that 'they' have been sent. The request is for this information to be sent in the future, some time after they have been sent. This is probably a more likely request than the first, as the information about the sending is more likely to be transmitted after the sending than during it.

Please let me know when you will send them to me.

This is also natural, normal and reasonably unambiguous to most native speakers. It is asking the person who receives this message to inform the person writing it when the receiver intends to send 'them'. The request is for this information to be sent now, before 'they' have been sent.

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