I received the following email today, we discussed the report before the email where I told the person that I hadn't(also can I use hadn't here) received it. I was wondering if it's all grammatical. The reason why I am asking this question is because the person is a native speaker.

"I had sent you the report on the 20th of Feb"

  • It's difficult to determine without context. – RiMMER Feb 27 '12 at 12:09
  • This is the whole email. – Noah Feb 27 '12 at 12:14
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    It is possible that something you said to your correspondent prompted him or her to use the past perfect here where the past simple would be the most obvious usage. I myself can't think of a plausible reason, so I suggest you ask him or her directly. – Shoe Feb 27 '12 at 13:29
  • @Shoe: Thank you. I told her that she hadn't sent it to me. Can you also comment on the "hadn't" part of my question and see if I am using it correctly. It's highlighted in bold. – Noah Feb 27 '12 at 14:51
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    @Noah, In your comment and in your OP you correctly use the past perfect in a clause of indirect speech. The tense backshift to the past perfect is grammatical and usual when reporting exact words such as "I haven't received your report", "You haven't sent me the report" or "You didn't send me the report". I think the only way you will find out why your correspondent used the past perfect here is to ask her. – Shoe Feb 27 '12 at 15:19

Ordinarily I would simply say the email you received was ungrammatical in context, but this isn't the kind of error native speakers normally make, so let's consider it in more detail.

"I had done sth" (Past Perfect Simple) is usually used in contexts where we're already talking about some period in the past, but we need to indicate that this particular action took place even earlier.

OP hasn't provided the exact context of the preceding conversation, but possibly it was something along the lines of "I was expecting that report by now (or, yesterday), but I haven't received it". Note that OP himself can use past perfect simple to report this to us now, but it would have been incorrect to have used it while talking to his colleague).

Given such a context, it's at least possible (if slightly perverse) for the colleague to treat that time in the past (when OP realised he hadn't received the report) as being the time-frame of reference for the ongoing dialogue. In which case the past perfect simple is in fact appropriate.

So assuming the colleague is a careful, competent speaker, one might wish to consider why she chose to use a grammatically/logically justifiable, but slightly unusual, verb tense. It could, for example, indicate a certain level of exasperation or defensiveness. Placing the original sending even further back in the past may imply she thinks the prior history is now a matter of long-past events, and that they should "move on". Or that she acted correctly right at the beginning - so if anything's gone wrong since, it's not necessarily her fault.

TL;DR: In matters like this, OP should assume that native speakers probably know what they're doing. Hoping to catch them out in errors of grammar is a mug's game.

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  • Okay, I talked to her and she said that since she had talked to me that she had sent me the report, it was to emphasize that she had sent it to me long ago. I dont know if it makes any sense at all. – Noah Feb 28 '12 at 19:51
  • @Noah: Absolutely that makes sense! It was the first of my two postulated reasons! You and she were discussing the failure of the report to have reached you at some point in the past (if you haven't got it now, the failure of delivery is something in the past). So she placed her sending of the report even further back in the past. – FumbleFingers Feb 28 '12 at 20:04
  • Thumbs up for the very well written response. Couldn't click the up-vote button 10 times:) – Noah Feb 29 '12 at 3:44
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    @Noah: Your second version is possible, but would be uncommon, because "worst I have seen" means "up until now". You're introducing the present into the statement, whereas normally we'd stick with past tense and say "worst I had seen [up until then]", even if in fact we haven't seen anything even worse than that in between the time being spoken of, and the present. – FumbleFingers Mar 21 '12 at 16:07
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    Per previous comment, present perfect (he has written) implies a close connection to the present time, now. Obviously you wouldn't normally use it in reference to a dead person, because they're definitely not here now. Unless maybe you were waving a copy of On the Origin of Species and shouting "Darwin has written an important book here!". And I think you've asked more than once here about the difference between past perfect and simple past. It's really not that complicated. – FumbleFingers Apr 15 '12 at 3:50

"Had sent" is the past perfect tense of "to send", and being this is a completed action that happened some time in the past this is an appropriate tense to use. I don't see any reason why the sentence would be improper.

"Hadn't sent" would be similarly acceptable, as it's just the negated form of "had sent". You can use it wherever you would otherwise use "had sent".

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