Television and the Present Perfect Tense
I’ve been wrestling with the title of a new Food Channel show called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”. I can’t put my finger on it, but this sounds incorrect to me . . . what is it that’s throwing me off?
Autumn’s grammatical instincts are correct. There is something not quite right with the name of this cooking show. “The best thing I ever ate” is idiomatic, but it’s not a formal English construction.
The simple past, ate, is used to describe an action that took place at a specific time. For example: The best thing I ate while I was in Greece . . .
Actions that occur at some unspecified time before the present are described with the present perfect: The best thing that I have ever eaten . . .
The present perfect may be used with unspecific modifiers:
ever, never, once, many times, several times, before, so far, already, yet, etc.
It may not be used with modifiers that indicate specific times:
yesterday, last week, when I was young, etc.
The formal version of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” would be “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten.”
But would it sell?
Fuller descriptions of the uses of the simple past and present perfect can be found here:
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