There is an English grammar problem which has been troubling me for a long period of time. The problem is with the construction "We refer to your letter dated XXX and addressed to YYY".

As per my knowledge, both of the "date" and "address" are acts which have been done, i.e. the date XXX has been written on the letter, and the name YYY has been written on the letter, and therefore, we should use past tense in the relative clause, and the full sentence should be "We refer to your letter which was dated XXX and [was] addressed to YYY". However, I have found that present tense can be used for the two past acts i.e. "date" and "address" (even they have been done), and the full sentence will become "We refer to your letter which is dated XXX and [is] addressed to YYY".

An example provided by the online Oxford Dictionary is "The document is dated Aug.24, 2004, but it has apparently just been put on the Web site very recently." (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/date)

Hence, I would like to know what proper tense should be used in the relative clause or for the two acts "date" and "address".

  • Dated does not refer to the action of putting a date on it, but rather to the current situation of the letter having a date on it. – oerkelens Oct 27 '17 at 14:11
  • You can use any tense you want. For example, We refer to your letter which will have been dated XXX and [will have been] addressed to YYY. – Arm the good guys in America Oct 27 '17 at 14:17

Merriam Webster states that 'dated', when applied to a letter, is an adjective. A 'dated' document is one which has a date on it. Therefore it is not a verb and does not express a past act but rather conveys the present, visible condition of the letter.

So, when a letter is described as 'dated 20th October 2017' it is a present description and 'dated 20th October 2017' is an extension of the adjective, 'dated'.

And thus, also, with 'addressed'.

'The document is dated 20th October 2017 . .' again expresses, with a present tense, the present visible condition of the document. At any time, the document could be removed and an identical document, but with a different date, could be substituted.

To use a past tense 'was dated' would imply that a document under consideration had been dated, with a certain date, in the past but was no longer in that condition and that date had been removed and another date applied.

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