ever = at any time
Ever usually means at any time and can be used to refer to past, present and future situations. The converse, meaning at no time, is never. Ever is mainly used in questions. Sometimes it is used in negative sentences (not ever) as an alternative to never. Compare the following:
ever : for emphasis
Were you ever in the Boy Scouts? ~ No, I never was.
Have you ever been to the Everglades in Florida? ~ Yes, I was there once, but it was years ago.
Will you ever speak to her again? ~ No, I don't think I ever will.
If you ever need any help, just give me a ring.
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:
We sometimes use ever in compound expressions with hardly or if:
If I ever
catch you fiddling your expenses claims again, you'll be sacked.
do that again!
did you manage to drive home through so much snow?
will I find time to get to the bottom of my in-tray?
did he marry such a domineering woman?
hardly ever = very rarely / seldom
seldom, if ever = almost never
It seldom / hardly ever / very rarely rains in Puglia in the summer.
ever = always?
Now that we have young children, we seldom, if ever, go out in the evening.
We do not often use ever to mean always, i.e. on every occasion or all the time. We have to say, e.g.:
I always bike to work now. It's so much healthier.
(Not: I ever bike to work now. It's so much healthier.)
Compare the difference in meaning between these two example sentences. In the first sentence, they often agree, but not on every occasion. In the second sentence, they never agree:
ever = always
My mother and I don't always agree about the best way to rear children.
My mother and I don't ever agree about the best way to rear children.
But occasionally, ever is used to mean always. We sometimes end letters with Yours ever or Ever yours as an alternative to Yours sincerely. Here Ever yours means Always yours.
And in these contexts too, in which we are indicating that a person has particular qualities, ever is used to mean always:
In a number of compound expressions, ever is used to mean always. These include as ever, for ever and ever since:
Let me open the door for you. ~ Ever the gentleman!
I always wear loose-fitting clothes like this ~ Ever the hippie!
Note that with the ever since construction the 'always' period commences when something happens. In the above examples, this is husband's death or army service meeting.
As ever, they couldn't agree. They've never ever agreed on anything.
As ever, he was dressed in the style of Eminem.
I thought she might be upset by this, but she was as unperturbed as ever.
We plan to live in this village now for ever. We shall never move out.
I intend to remain married to you forever. I shall always love you.
She's had a drink problem ever since her husband died.
I first met him when I was in the army and we've remained friends ever since.
Finally when ever is combined with a comparative adjective, it is used to mean always:
always = very often
The water was rising ever higher and we were in danger of being cut off.
The volume of work is going to increase and I shall become ever more busy.
As well as all the time or on every occasion, always can also mean very often when it is used with the progressive form:
Note the difference in meaning between these two examples of use:
She always going on about the cost of living and how expensive everything is.
I'm always losing my keys. I put them down and can never remember where I've put them.
I'll always lend you money when you have none. You know you can depend on me. (Always = on every occasion)
I'm always lending you money when you have none. Why don't you try to budget more carefully? (Always = very often)