My friend asked me if I received an email she sent me last week, so I told her I did get it, but forgot to reply. She then told me this: "I was just making sure that you had gotten my email [...]"

How is this correct? It seems a bit unnatural for her to use past perfect, when she could have said "I was just making sure that you received my email". She is American, so I assume it is correct, but I've never heard of such a phrase before.

  • 1
    This similar question may help: “Gotten” versus “got” Got and gotten sound strange to me too and I would prefer using another verb with the same meaning, as you said. But I guess it's still commonly used. – user485 Apr 13 '13 at 4:27
  • You could either use past, past perfect, or present perfect tense here: "that you received", "that you have received", or "that you had received". They're all correct. Present perfect emphasizes that it connects to the present (possibly because you still have to do something connected with the email), and past perfect places it before something else that happened in the past (which in this case is her asking you whether you received it). – Peter Shor Apr 13 '13 at 13:13

If I understand correctly, what confuses you is the use of past perfect (had gotten/had received) instead of past simple (got/received).

The typical use of past perfect is a past action completed before another past action. You receiving the email was before her making sure of it. That is why if making sure of it is in the past, receiving it should be even earlier in the past, which means past perfect.

So yes, her sentence is grammatically the best choice here. Yours would be a very commonly used one, which does not follow the correct grammar rules. She could have also said "I just want to be sure that you have got it." (Which is a version of what she actually used, only avoiding the past tense.)

  • I have to disagree. I wouldn't say past perfect is the best choice here. I would say past, past perfect, and present perfect are all good choices here, and they are all perfectly grammatical. They do emphasize slightly different things about this situation. ESL students (and probably poor ESL teachers) have a tendency to think that only one tense is correct for any particular situation. This is not always the case, and ESL students need to know this. – Peter Shor Apr 13 '13 at 13:07
  • @Peter Shor: That is why I wrote "best" and not "only" answer. Can you give examples with the other two tenses? I can't think of a correct use of "get" in the present or past simple in this sentence. You can say it in the present if you change the verb (I was making sure you have my email), and also in the past (I was making sure you had my email). – fluffy Apr 13 '13 at 13:13
  • I want to avoid using gotten in my examples because get is a verb used differently in the U.S. and the U.K. But you could say "I was just making sure that you have received it" or "I was just making sure that you received it". These are present perfect and past tense. In AmE, you could replace have received by have gotten and past tense received by got, and they'd mean the same thing. In British English, you can't use have got because that means have, and not have received. – Peter Shor Apr 13 '13 at 13:16
  • I see your point, and I know they are often used like that. However, let me explain my point. A wants to make sure that B received it. A says: "I want to make sure (now) you received it (before)." In this case she used past, which transforms the sentence into "I wanted to make sure (when I asked earlier) that you had received it (before I asked)." If A says: "I want to make sure you have it", then you are more versatile, because the sentence can be: "I wanted to make sure (when I asked) that you have it (now)". – fluffy Apr 13 '13 at 13:33

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