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Ever or Never?


Ask a Teacher: Ever or Never?
Ever or Never?
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This week we answer a question from Viola in China, who writes:

Question:

I'm following your program all the time and I love it so much. I desperately want to learn about the meaning of the word "ever," especially the differences between "ever" and "never." Thanks very much!

- Viola, China

Answer:

Dear Viola,

Thanks for following our program. There are some simple rules that may help you learn how to use the words "ever" and "never."

Ever

"Ever" is an adverb, so it affects the meaning of a verb. The simple meaning of "ever" is "at least once." It can also mean, "at all times." Language experts tell us that "ever" only belongs in sentences with some negative quality. For example,

She didn't ever call back.

means the same as, She did not call at all times.

You will see "ever" in questions. The question,

Have you ever seen the northern lights?

means the same as Have you seen the northern lights at least once?

Where is the negative in that question? Grammar experts say that when you ask a question, there may be a negative answer. So "ever" is used in this kind of question.

Ever can also express a doubt, as in:

If you ever see that man again, ask his name.

The speaker here is unsure about whether the listener will see the man again.

Never

On the other hand, "never" already has a negative idea, so it belongs in sentences without any negative. "Never" is also an adverb, and it means "not ever," or "not at any time."

I have never seen such a beautiful sky.

Another difference is that you can use "never" as a one-word answer, while you cannot do so with "ever." For example:

A: You copied my work.

B: Me? Never!

And that's Ask a Teacher for this week. I hope you never stop asking questions!

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

negativen. a word or statement that means “no” or that expresses a denial or refusal

doubt – v. to be uncertain about (something); to believe that (something) may not be true or is unlikely

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