Sorry, I haven't seen your letter



I'm waiting for an email answer from another person. And then I'm writing to him a question asking whether he is going to answer:

Me: Are you going to answer?

Person: I've answered to you already.

Me: Oh, I'm sorry, I haven't seen your email. I've just found it. It has fallen into the Span folder.

Is it correct to say "I haven't seen your email" in this situation?


Posted 2019-01-08T14:27:12.060

Reputation: 483

6"I hadn't seen your letter" seems to fit better – Ayxan Haqverdili – 2019-01-08T20:27:22.897

1Despite having posted an answer myself, I'm voting to close for *lack of sufficient background detail*. A lot of time has been spent on this page speculating about possible contextual nuances - some of which might be irrelevant, but many of which could be crucial to the choice of tense. And frankly, given that neither the OP nor any other users here have been able to establish the precise context and/or *edit the question* to unambiguously describe it, I think the whole thing has just degenerated into a bike-shedding exercise, illuminating very little for learners. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-09T13:13:15.307

@FumbleFingers I've added more details to my question. – Alexey – 2019-01-10T09:19:49.543

I'd say you've *radically changed* the context, rather than "added more details"! – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-10T13:23:02.790



Both are “haven’t seen” and “didn’t see” can be correct.

I would use the first one (“haven’t seen”) if the letter is still unaccounted for.

I would use the second one (“didn’t see”) if the letter was eventually found, but you are replying late because you hadn’t seen it as soon as expected.

In your example, though, you’ve found the letter, so you should use the second one:

Hi, I'm sorry, I didn't see your letter. I've just found it. How are you?

But the first one could work in a context like this:

Hi, I'm sorry, I haven't seen your letter. I don’t know where it could be. How are you?


Posted 2019-01-08T14:27:12.060

Reputation: 108 123

OP's original text was "I'm just found it" and it was correctly edited by FumbleFingers changing it to "I've just found it" but ... would be "I just found it" also correct in this case? – RubioRic – 2019-01-08T14:36:52.197

2@RubioRic Either one seems fine to me. I would say there are two ways they differ in connotation: 1) "I just found it" conveys slightly more immediacy, that you found it and then immediately started writing. 2) "I've just found it" lightly implies that you found it after searching, rather than just by chance. Realistically they're interchangeable though. – Kamil Drakari – 2019-01-08T15:32:24.170

1In BrE 'I just found it' means that the only thing you did with respect to the letter was to find it (as distinct from lose it, burn it, throw it away, or any of all the other things that you might do with a letter). In colloquial English 'I just found it' might well be an abbreviation of 'I've just found it '. – JeremyC – 2019-01-08T22:39:56.783

@Jeremy - When I wrote my answer, I was imagining something along the lines of: I've just (recently) stumbled across it. In other words, the letter came, and I meant to open it, but I got distracted, and I set it down someplace where it sat "out of sight, out of mind" for some length of time, until by chance I happened to spot it again, thereby prompting the response the OP composed: Hi, I'm sorry, I didn't see (or read) your letter. I've just found it. How are you? – J.R. – 2019-01-08T22:50:21.513

1@J.R. I have no problem with "I've just found" it nor indeed with any part of your answer. I was questioning the idea, not yours, that "I just found it" = "I've just found it". – JeremyC – 2019-01-08T22:54:29.927

@JeremyC - I didn't sense you were pointing out a problem. I just noticed there were a lot of different interpretations being tossed around (in all the comments, not just the ones here), and I figured it was a good time to clarify. – J.R. – 2019-01-08T23:03:06.667

No, *I've just…* and *I just…* are routinely used to mean *I've just this minute finished…* in many part of the UK. The sense of *I only found it* is usually pronounced Don't shoot the messenger!. Practical English Usage backs this (Word Problems, 503) although he places it under "tenses" instead of "time" :o) – Will Crawford – 2019-01-09T05:41:25.793

@J.R. I was thinking of a different situation - I've found the letter (email) in the Span folder. I'm surprised because of it. But does it make any difference? Do you need to correct your answer now? – Alexey – 2019-01-09T09:13:40.530

@Alexey - No, my answer stays the same. If I (just now) found it in my Spam folder, I'd say: Hi, I'm sorry, I didn't see your letter. I've just found it in my Spam folder. How are you? And if I never managed to find it at all, I'd say: Hi, I'm sorry, I haven't seen your letter. I don’t know where it could be. How are you? – J.R. – 2019-01-09T11:33:48.843

@J.R. OK, thank you. And what do you think about "I'm sorry, I hadn't seen your letter. I've just found it"? Is it also correct? – Alexey – 2019-01-10T08:57:26.087

You can use hadn't or didn't. In this particular sentence, most native speakers would hardly notice the difference. – J.R. – 2019-01-10T15:10:59.360


Which version to use? Neither! This is one of those contexts1 where most native speakers would feel they have to use the Past Perfect...

Hi, I'm sorry, I hadn't seen your letter. I've just found it. How are you?

Present Perfect (I haven't seen it) doesn't make sense here, because that always implies from the Past up to and including the Present. Which clearly can't be correct, since the speaker goes on to say I've just found it.

The only way it could make sense with Present Perfect would be if we assume the speaker meant he hadn't actually read the letter (even though he's seen it, so knows that he has in fact received it). But in normal contexts everyone would always understand seeing a letter as equivalent to reading it, unless the speaker went out of his way to clarify the fact that he hadn't actually done the second thing (for example, Sorry, I haven't actually read your letter [yet] - I['ve] only just found it.

1 Revisiting this answer, I realise that arguably I was "suckered" into assuming what might actually be a somewhat contrived context. Per my comment below (which might get deleted at some point), the fact that the apology was "spliced" into the standard "initial greeting" rhetorical question Hi, how are you? made me suppose the speaker was responding to the other person having already referenced the letter in his introductory utterance - maybe something like Hi, this is Mr Smith. I'm calling to see if you've got any recommendations for the problem I wrote you about.

In that context, it seems at least reasonable to me (but arguably not necessary) to use Past Perfect to reflect the fact that failing to have actually read it was a "sin of omission" effectively committed earlier than the (very recent) finding of the letter.

But that's just my take.

FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica

Posted 2019-01-08T14:27:12.060

Reputation: 52 587

8I think many native speakers (myself included) would use "didn't see". – Barmar – 2019-01-08T16:57:25.953

4I also would say "I just found it" rather than "I've just found it" -- they seem indistinguishable to me. – Barmar – 2019-01-08T16:58:16.083

5I'd say it like this but I doubt most would. These days probably more like "peng yeah got ur letter bruv, lost it for mad long time innit" – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2019-01-08T17:17:27.250

American from Michigan, I've literally never heard anyone say or write hadn't in this way... grammatically correct, but not in common use in my experience. But I honestly think hadn't + PP is the exception here - it's fallen out of favor. I would definitely use have --> past + PP as in the last sentence, "I haven't actually read your letter..." @LightnessRacesinOrbit here's to hoping that you're trying to imitate British youth... – Chris Cirefice – 2019-01-08T17:19:48.653

Looking again at this question, I've realised that the precise context I'd imagined isn't necessarily the most likely one (and OP doesn't go into details on that front). Given that the speaker actually "interrupts" what would otherwise be the standard ice-breaking introductory pleasantry Hi. How are you? I just assumed How are you? was a genuine enquiry rather than a rhetorical question. So I imagined the speaker was actually responding to the other person calling to ask for a "progress report" on some personal problem he'd written about earlier (and assumed OP had read). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-08T17:53:50.503

@Chris In contrast, I use it this way all the time, and it's very common here. I didn't realize this was a New Jersey vs Michigan thing. – Matt Samuel – 2019-01-09T01:13:25.340

@FumbleFingers I'd like to clarify. I don't considier the ending question "How are you?" to be very important. Now I think I shouldn't have added it at all. The idea of the question is that the speaker has found the letter just this minute and is saying about it to the other person. If you feel that there may be different answers depending on some aspects then could you please describe them in your answer - it would be really great! Thank you very much! – Alexey – 2019-01-09T09:01:58.873

@LightnessRacesinOrbit Could you please tell me what is "peng", "bruv", "innit"?) – Alexey – 2019-01-09T09:04:48.033

@Alexey and (more generally) Enjoy!

– Lightness Races in Orbit – 2019-01-09T11:50:01.440

@Alexey: I still don't understand the exact context. But it seems inconceivable to me that you would actually call the letter-writer yourself, and initiate the conversation by apologising for not having actually read the "just-found" letter. Any normal person would obviously *read the letter first, and then make the call.* In that situation, it would be natural to use Past Perfect, because the intended sense would be *I had not read your letter until just now, after having just found it*. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-09T13:04:10.483

@Barmar “I’ve just used” is more common in British English, while just + past simple is more common in the US. – idmean – 2019-01-09T18:17:33.807

@Fumble I imagined that the sender confronted the receiver perhaps at their front door. – Matt Samuel – 2019-01-09T20:29:54.057

@FumbleFingers More clarification: Me: Are you going to answer? Person: I've answered to you already. Me: Oh, I'm sorry, I haven't seen your letter (email). I've just found it - It has fallen into the Span folder. ---

So you see that it doesn't matter whetehrer I've read it or not. I agree that my original question maybe not very clear, I'm sorry, I can modify my original question, should I? – Alexey – 2019-01-10T09:05:02.610

@Alexey: Oh wow! Now you've really changed the context! The original was obviously either the *initial utterance* (starting a "conversation"), or the first response to same. It's very hard to imagine myself in the relevant context (to decide exactly what tense choices might be "natural"), when things keep changing so much. Your latest context implies you found found the email *after* asking Are you going to answer?, so I'd endorse either *I hadn't seen your email* (when I just asked that *a moment ago*), OR *haven't read* (when apologising *now*). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-10T13:20:52.003

@FumbleFingers So your answer stays the same, right? – Alexey – 2019-01-10T13:41:39.537

@Alexey: I honestly don't know whether or how what I actually wrote in my Answer relates to the amended Question. But I certainly stand by my comment immediately above this one. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-10T15:05:00.500