A friend has asked me how to use ever. Today, I am going to show you the various ways we can use this convenient English word. We’ll also look at the typical grammar patterns used with ever.
Ever means ‘at any time’. It is used mainly in questions.
- Do you ever wish you were rich? (= at any time)
- Have you ever been to England? (= at any time up to the present)
- He has been unhappy ever since he left home. (= at all times)
Ever and always:
Ever is not normally used to mean ‘always’.
- I shall always remember you. (= NOT I shall ever …)
But note that ever means ‘always’ in a few expressions like forever, ever since, ever after and Yours ever.
- I will love you forever.
- Yours ever. (ending a letter to an intimate friend)
Ever is used mainly in questions. It is also possible in negative clauses, but never is more common than not ever.
- Have you ever seen a whale?
- I don’t ever want to talk to him again. (OR I never want to talk to him again.)
Ever is also used after if and other words that express a negative idea (like hardly or nobody)
- Nobody ever visits them.
Ever in affirmative clauses:
Ever is used in affirmative clauses after superlatives and only.
- He is the oldest man ever to have climbed Everest.
- She is the only woman ever to have won this award.
Ever for emphasis:
We sometimes use ever to give emotive emphasis to what we are saying as an indication that we feel very strongly about it. Thus, in speech, ever receives strong word stress:
- If I ever catch you fiddling your expenses claims again, you’ll be sacked.
- Don’t ever do that again!
- How ever did you manage to drive home through so much snow?
- When ever will I find time to get to the bottom of my in-tray?
- Why ever did he marry such a domineering woman?
We sometimes use ever in compound expressions with hardly or if:
hardly ever = very rarely / seldom
- It seldom / hardly ever / very rarely rains in Nador in the summer.
- Koreans hardly ever buy anything foreign if it competes with a domestic product.
seldom, if ever = almost never
- Now that we have young children, we seldom, if ever, go out in the evening.
- The biggest events in tennis, boxing and auto racing seldom, if ever, landed here.
Ever and before:
Ever and before can both be used to mean ‘at any time in the past’, but there is a slight difference. Before refers to a present event, and asks whether it has happened at another time; ever does not refer to a present event.
- Have you been to England before? (The hearer is probably in England.)
- Have you ever been to England? (The hearer is not in England.)
When used with a present perfect tense, ever means ‘at any time up to now’.
- Have you ever been to the US?
- He’s been an activist in a way that I don’t think most reporters have ever been.
Ever, always and never:
- Ever means ‘at any time’. Always means ‘every time’. Never means ‘at no time’.
- Have you ever been to New Zealand on holiday? (= at any time)
- We always go to New Zealand on holiday. (= every time)
- We have never been to New Zealand on holiday. (= at no time)
Remember also that ever can be tagged on to ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘what’, ‘which’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ to make the conjunctions wherever, whenever, whatever, whichever, whoever andhowever, meaning ‘no matter where’, ‘no matter when’, ‘no matter what’, ‘no matter which’, ‘no matter who’ and ‘no matter how’. Compare the following:
- We were playing ‘Hide and Seek’ and we couldn’t find him wherever we looked.
- If you have a problem, you can phone me up whenever you like – at any time of the day.
- Whatever advice I gave her, she would be sure not to take it.
- Whichever path we took, we were unable to find our way out of the maze.
- I shall sell my computer to whoever wants it.
- However hard I try, I can never seem to learn vocabulary.
Finally, ever is used in the comparative expression as ever and than ever, meaning ‘as/than at any time in the past’. Study the following two examples:
- You’ll have to work harder than ever today, if you want to finish this job before it gets dark.
- Jane, it’s so long since I heard you sing, but you sing as beautifully as ever!
Now, it’s your turn. How about trying to use “ever” in an original sentence in the comment box below?