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 'Ever' and 'whenever'
The Millennium Wheel, London
Tiffany Teng from Singapore asks:

We know it is correct to say: ‘I have never been to London’. But for someone who has been to London before, is it correct to say: ‘I have ever been to London’?
Roger replies:more questions

No. Ever means at any time, so it is inappropriate in the above sentence. Ever is used mainly in questions.

Although it is usually associated with the present perfect, it can also be used with a present, past or past perfect verb form or with future reference.

If the answer is no, we often use never in the reply, meaning ‘not at any time’.

If the answer is yes, we might add once or twice, etc, to indicate how many times we have done whatever is being referred to. Compare the following:

  • 'Have you ever been to Ireland?' 'Yes, I’ve been there twice, once in 1983 and again in 1995.'

  • 'Did you ever meet Tom Robinson when you were at uni?' 'No, I never did.'

  • 'My driving instructor asked me if I’d ever driven before.' 'I said, no, I never had.'

  • 'Do you ever go to the cinema?' 'No, I prefer to watch films on video or DVD.'

  • 'Are you ever going to finish this book?' 'I’ll try and finish it over the summer. I’ve no time now.'

  • 'Will you ever marry me?' 'No, Jason I don’t think I ever will.'
As you can see from this last example, ever can be used in an affirmative sentence with not as an alternative to the more usual 'never'. It can also be used in affirmative sentences with if and with adverbs which express a negative idea, like hardly. Remember the meaning of ever is always ‘at any time’. Compare the following:
  • 'If you ever change your mind, let me know. We’d love to have you on the team.'

  • 'If you are ever in London, be sure to come and see us.'

  • 'We hardly ever go to the theatre. It’s too expensive.'

  • 'I don’t think we shall ever see Jenny again now that she’s emigrated to Australia.'
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 and however, 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.'

  • 'Jayne, it’s so long since I heard you sing, but you sing as beautifully as ever!'

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