“We didn’t” versus “We haven’t”: A tense conversation

“We said we would look into other conference call sites, but we didn’t,” said Kyeli.

“We haven’t yet,” I interjected.

Mayhem ensued.

I had stepped on one of Kyeli’s landmines; she feels that I don’t acknowledge the differences between our concepts of time. For me, “now” is the current instant, but for her it’s the whole current day. “We didn’t” versus “We haven’t yet” triggered this landmine of time once again. And the reason I felt the need to interject was because Kyeli had accidentally stepped on one of my landmines; my insecurity about failing to Get Stuff Done.

Once we talked through our feelings and triggers, we got to a place where we could explore our differences without anyone getting blown up. We found some interesting things.

“didn’t” vs. “haven’t”

For me, “We didn’t do this” implies that it’s now too late. There was a time to do it, and that time has passed. “We haven’t done this” implies that it’s not yet too late.

For Kyeli, they both mean about the same thing. It’s not yet too late.

“I didn’t open it” vs. “I haven’t opened it”

Let’s say we’re conversing about some event in the past, for instance my trip to Finland, and I’m telling you about a present I received while I was there. If I say, “I didn’t open it,” I mean that I didn’t open it during my trip to Finland. But if I say, “I haven’t opened it,” that means that not only did I leave it closed during the Finland trip, it’s still closed now.

For Kyeli, they both mean about the same thing. It may or may not be open now. Now if I had said, “I haven’t opened it yet,” that would mean it’s still closed now, but “I haven’t opened it” is still ambiguous to her.

“I didn’t visit my family” vs. “I haven’t visited my family”

Imagine it’s nearly the end of the year. If you say, “I didn’t visit my family this year,” I’d be really surprised if you then go and buy last-minute plane tickets. But if you say, “I haven’t visited my family this year,” I wouldn’t be surprised, because for me the present perfect tense (e.g. haven’t) indicates potential openness whereas the simple past (e.g. didn’t) indicates closedness and finality.

For Kyeli, they both mean about the same thing.

The usual error strikes again!

Our miscommunication was, of course, caused by the usual error. I was using my definitions of words and tenses to interpret Kyeli’s words, and she was using her definitions to interpret my words. I’m glad we got to the bottom of our miscommunication, because I feel closer to Kyeli now that I’ve learned something new about how she sees the world, and I find our different viewpoints on time and tense really interesting.

We’d be interested in hearing your viewpoints, too. (:

Feel clear and confident about your direction in life!


Do you wish you could follow your heart, but it seems impossible? I can help you find the clarity and courage you need.

In other words, I can help you find your path.