There is an website that allows users to send 1024-character messages to each other. When the message is longer, trying to send it causes an error message similar to the following to appear:

Max message length is 1024 characters. Your message was 1122 characters.

Since the message is shown to the user after the "Send" button is clicked, shouldn't the message say "Your message is 1122 characters"?
Using the Present Perfect doesn't make the sentence sound right to my ear, but probably "Your message has been 1122 characters." could make sense.

Given the message style (which uses max instead of maximum, and doesn't use any article at the beginning of the sentence), I thought the aim was to keep the message as short as possible. If that were true, then using is would save a character more. I guess that is not the reason for using the Simple Past instead of the Simple present.

What tense should be used in this case?

IMO, using the Simple Past would confuse people who don't speak English as first language. For example, using the Simple Past in Italian would confuse me, as I would understand the message is informing me about a previous state, not about the actual state. Only after checking the message length (which is always shown as 22 / 1024 characters used, where the character count dynamically changes while the user edits the message) I would understand it is the actual state.

Rather than using that message, I would use the following one:

You cannot send messages longer than 1024 characters.

That is probably preferable to the following one:

You tried sending a message you could not. Its length was more than 1024 characters.

Using the latter sentence seems to make clearer the message was more than 1024 character when the user tried sending it; that is probably the reason why I prefer it to the error message currently used by the website. On the other side, the other sentence I suggest is less verbose, and it is correct even when the error message is still shown after the user started editing the message to make it shorter, since it doesn't say what the user could understand as the current message length.

Would the Simple Past make sense in a sentence like that, or would the Simple Present be preferable also in this case?

1 Answer 1


Use of the past doesn't bother me - the error message explains why the message was not sent.

But use of the present wouldn't bother me either - the error message would be explaining why the message cannot be sent.

You cannot send messages longer than 1024 characters.

That omits the Useful Information about how much too long the message is. (By way of comparison, I really appreciate the SE practice of providing a running count on Comments).

This would work:

Your message is too long: 98 characters more than the maximum 1024.

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