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I've noticed that people use present perfect when emailing other people, but I'm not sure how to utilize that verb tense. Will my example below work?

"To this email, I've attached the copies of the photos you asked for. Also, because you told me that you didn't get the other copies, I've made more copies for you. I've also attached them to this email."

Or should I use the following?

"To this email, I attached the copies of the photos you asked for. Also, because you told me that you didn't get the other copies, I made more copies for you. I also attached them to this email."

Is there a reason why people use present perfect when emailing?

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4 Answers 4

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I think it's because the past tense sounds somewhat awkward when the author is composing the email.

We use the present perfect tense when we want to talk about unfinished actions that started in the past and continue to the present.1

Well, at the moment you are composing the email, the action is unfinished. The email is still unsent. So, when I'm proofreading my own email:

I attached copies of the photos you asked for.

sounds off. The action isn't done; my email is still sitting in front of me.

I'll grant you, the language would sound just fine if I imagined myself as the reader, reading an already-sent email message, but it seems like I've attached reads better before the email is sent, which is perhaps why you see that form as often as you do.

Incidentally, I wouldn't be thrown off by either of the two versions you composed.

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This is probably one of those cases where British English would use the present perfect tense, while American English would use the simple past tense.

The present perfect tense is used:

  • To describe how an even in the past continues to be relevant at a later time

    Mario has arrived home.

  • To describe a event that started in the past and continue into the present

    Michelle has shopped at that store since she was a child.

  • To describe an repeated event happened in the past

    She has walked downtown everyday for a year.

Supposing that you are talking to somebody, and you say "Mario has arrived home." you are saying that Mario is still at home, while when you say "Mario arrived home." you are not saying where Mario actually is.

In your case, you could say "I have attached the copies of the photos" since the copies of the photos are still attached to the email when you will send it. If you say "I attached the copies of the photo," the person who receives the email will understand that the copies of the photos are still attached to the email, if you don't say something different.

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  • How about the "I've made more copies for you" part? Since I did make the copies before writing the email but haven't sent the email yet, do you think it's better to use past perfect in this case?
    – jess
    Apr 24, 2013 at 12:39
  • You can say "I've made more copies for you" or "I made more copies for you." I would not use the past perfect tense, except in the case you say something similar to "I had already made more copies for you when you sent your email to say you didn't need them anymore."
    – apaderno
    Apr 24, 2013 at 12:47
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First one seems reasonably good and enough. Though, I believe you can also phrase 1st line as,

I have, herewith, attached the copies of the photos you asked for.


I also don't see the need for the following phrase in the end.

I've also attached them to this email.


Also, it's usually a good practice to make a list of the attached items to the mail in a sequence - and then perhaps add some information in front of them individually as you may see fit. For instance:

Please find the following files attached herewith:

  1. abc.jpg - As requested by you in the last mail

  2. def.jpg, ghi.jpg - Copies of the earlier photos you were not able to receive

  3. jkl.jpg, mno.jpg

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  • I'd be reluctant to use herewith in an email; it sounds rather stilted to me. Please find the following files attached works just fine on its own.
    – J.R.
    Apr 24, 2013 at 9:10
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Short answer: Use the Past Simple if it's clearer, and it is a bit clearer here, plus is quicker and more common.

Longer answer: The Present Perfect is usually used in three ways.

Life experience (something occurring in the subject's past):

I've participated in scavenger hunts with members of the Royal Family.
I've never studied Martian.
I've tried to, but I only have one larynx.

A change or action which affects or relates to the present situation:

We've sent you the insects you requested. (They're in the mail.)
I've caught a cold. (Now I'm sick.)
My girlfriend has broken my hip. (Now she hops.)

An action or state lasting up until now:

We've been waiting around all day for that asteroid to hit.
I've never been good at wrestling ogres.

In your example, while all of those Present Perfect verbs are examples of a past action having a result relevant to the matter at hand, it's a little clearer if you use Past Simple because when someone's quickly reading an email the Present Perfect may be less obvious. This is because of potential confusion with the 'life experience'.

If you write '...I've made more copies for you.' it may also be read similar to 'I've made more copies for you at times in the past.' and it's subtly more courteous to the reader to remove the confusion. Past Simple may also refer to the past but the context makes it clear here.

Both tenses are correct in this case and we have a choice of whether we want to speak as though we're emphasizing the events when they happened or the present situation created by them, and I prefer the Past Simple for clear communication. If this were literature, I'd probably use the Present Perfect because we really are more concerned with the resulting situation, unless I were trying to evoke a more vernacular feel.

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