Ever and Never

By Mark Nichol

Ever and never are adverbs employed in strictly defined ways. Here are the parameters of usage for the two terms.

Ever, from the Old English word aefre, is used in these types of constructions:

  • In positively constructed questions: “Have you ever been to Disneyland?”
  • In negatively constructed questions: “Haven’t you ever been to Disneyland?”
  • In positively constructed statements referring to a first instance: “That’s the first time anyone has ever asked me.”
  • In negatively constructed statements expressing that something has not occurred: “Nobody has ever asked me that before.”
  • To describe a continuous state: “I have ever wanted to go to Disneyland.”
  • To mean “at any time”: “I want to go to Disneyland more than ever before.”
  • To mean “in any way”: “How can I ever go to Disneyland?”

Note that the word is not essential in any of these questions or statements; it simply intensifies the verb it modifies. For example, “I want to go to Disneyland more than before” simply states that the desire to go is greater than it used to be, while “I want to go to Disneyland more than ever before” suggests a strength of feeling about the subject.

Never, from the Old English word naefre, consisting of ne (“not”) attached to aefre, is more limited in usage:

  • In positively constructed questions prompting or confirming a negative response: “Have you never been to Disneyland?” (Using never with the negative form of a verb, such as haven’t, is redundant but appears occasionally in colloquial usage.)
  • In negatively constructed statements expressing that something has not occurred: “I have never been asked that before.” (This is merely a passively written version of the equivalent sentence using ever.)

Again, the adverb is not required, though in the second example, not would have to replace it; not could replace never in the first example but is not essential.

Two related words, already and yet, each from Old English as well, also refer to occurrence. Already, a compound formed from all and ready, refers to something that has occurred before now at an unspecified time:

  • I’ve already been to Disneyland.
  • Have you already been to Disneyland?

Ever and never are limited in the ways they can be relocated in a sentence (with varying degrees of acceptance of the syntax; only the last example is proper English):

  • Have you been to Disneyland ever? / Haven’t you been to Disneyland ever?
  • Nobody has asked me that before ever.
  • Never have I been asked that before.

Already, however, is more versatile (again, the choices differ in grammatical formality; the third and fifth examples are considered good English):

  • Already, I’ve been to Disneyland.
  • I’ve been already to Disneyland.
  • I’ve been to Disneyland already.
  • Have you been already to Disneyland?
  • Have you been to Disneyland already?

Yet appears in sentences indicating that something hasn’t occurred up to the present:

  • I haven’t been to Disneyland yet.

It is usually placed at the end of the sentence but for emphasis occasionally appears near the beginning:

  • I haven’t yet been to Disneyland.

The implication is that the speaker expects or hopes that the action will occur at some point; without yet, a simple fact is stated with no additional implication. Also, “Yet, I haven’t been to Disneyland” has a different meaning: As an alternative to however or nevertheless, it points out a contradiction or a rebuttal in response to a statement such as “You’ve been all over the world.”

Yet can also have the sense of “in addition” or be a synonym for one sense of even, as in “We’re facing yet another problem” and “Tomorrow, they have yet more ground to cover” respectively.

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