Did I ever tell you (Have I ever told you)

Phoebe1200

Senior Member
Russian-Russia
NCIS, TV show

Ducky: Did I ever tell you about the first case Jethro and I worked? Two sailors capsized a recreational skiff on a Summer's eve. Panic ensued. When they were finally located, one sailor was dead the other severely hypothermic.


It actually has to be "Have I ever told you", right?
 
  • wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The meaning is the same as 'Have I ever told you ..?', but the form 'Did I ever tell you ..?' is very long-established and has not changed with modern usage.

    What this tells us is that the current use of the present perfect tense is a relatively modern development in English (the Americans are still catching up with it :)).
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The modern usage, the way we use it today, as it is taught in language schools, grammar books and the internet, including this forum.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thanks.
    So, this is just an AE/BE difference?
    The British people would use "Have I ever told you" in situations where the Americans use "Did I ever tell you"?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    No. In Britain we usually say 'Did I ever tell you .. ?'

    This expression is a long-established one. It is so old that I believe it goes back to the time before the present perfect tense acquired its present meaning.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    So, it's wrong to use "Have I ever told you"?

    Of course not; it's perfectly fine and grammatical. Linguistically, "Did I ever tell you?" focuses on the past as a time prior to the present; "Have I ever told you?" focuses on the past as it extends into the present (that's the basic meaning of the present perfect, to connect the past and the present). It's simply a difference in temporal perspective, which is up to the speaker. Pragmatically, the mere act of speaking "connects" whatever happened in the past to the present, so the present perfect is not technically needed: Did I ever tell you about the first case Jethro and I worked?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Post 11 is a correct statement of the difference between the two tenses in standard English usage today.

    However, this difference has not always existed. There was a tlme when the past simple was used for situations where we use present perfect today.

    We use 'Did I ever tell you ..?' more often than you might expect and that is because it has been in common use ever since olden times. That at least is my theory (I do not claim to have proved it).
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Post 11 is a correct statement of the difference between the two tenses in standard English usage today.

    However, this difference has not always existed. There was a tlme when the past simple was used for situations where we use present perfect today.

    We use 'Did I ever tell you ..?' more often than you might expect and that is because it has been in common use ever since olden times. That at least is my theory (I do not claim to have proved it).
    Thank you.:)
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    And in a positive sentence, like this: "I don't think I ever told (have ever told) you...", which tense would be used here?
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I would use "I don't think I ever told you" or "I don't think I've ever told you." So either, but with a contraction for the "have."

    I imagine present tense is more for conversation.
     
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    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you, Copyright.:)
    Just one more thing.
    So the positive sentence is not the same as the question where you and others said that only past simple is more common "Did I ever tell", I mean, that's why I thought that the positive sentence should also follow that pattern and be used with only past simple?
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    So, it's wrong to use "Have I ever told you"?
    Not wrong, but probably inappropriate in the given context.

    Ducky is a Scottish character played by a Scottish actor, and both the character and the actor speak formal English almost exclusively, so AmE and informal usage are probably irrelevant to this discussion, except for the fact that they agree in preferring simple past tense here.

    As I see it, Ducky uses simple past tense because he is "asking" about a specific event that happened one time, and about whether there was a time when he recounted that event to Abby. The event happened one time, and Ducky would normally tell his close coworker about it once, so simple past is most appropriate.

    Present perfect would be more appropriate in referring to multiple occasions or a possible occasion associated with something other than a specific one-time event:

    Have I ever told you any jungle adventure stories?
    Have I ever told you a jungle adventure story?
    And in a positive sentence, like this: "I don't think I ever told (have ever told) you...", which tense would be used here?
    The adverb ever is very unusual in a positive context. "I don't think ..." is negative, and "Did I ...?" is interrogative. We would not say "I ever told you ..." in a positive sentence.

    Some positive examples:

    I told you yesterday about our first case.
    I told you once about our first case.
    I have told you at least once about our first case.
    I have always told you about our cases.
     
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    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thanks a lot for your detailed answer, Forero.:)

    How about if I leave out the 'ever' in "I don't think I told (have ever told) you...".
    Is it OK to say it like that if I want to introduce a story or tell something to someone?
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "I don't think I told you the story of Jack and the Beanstalk" would sound strange in BrE if the timespan is "ever".
    "I don't think I told you the story of Jack and the Beanstalk when you were little" would sound unremarkable in BrE.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    "I don't think I told you the story of Jack and the Beanstalk" would sound strange in BrE if the timespan is "ever".
    "I don't think I told you the story of Jack and the Beanstalk when you were little" would sound unremarkable in BrE.
    Same for my AmE. If I use simple past tense and the time span is ever, I have to explicitly include the ever.

    "I don't think (that) ..." always creates a negative environment since the not applies to the whole clause, including the subordinate part(s). Are we talking about something that did not happen within a time interval separated from the present (simple past), or within a time interval that extends all/ the way up to the present (present perfect)?

    As I see it, "Did I ever tell you ...?"/"I don't think I ever told you ..." about a specific event is a kind of special case. The idea I see in it is that I meant to tell you sometime (soon after the event), but it seems that I didn't (even quite some time later).

    Maybe a positive version of this is "I eventually told you ..." or "Sooner or later I told you ...." For telling about a specific event, I would not use present perfect in these positive constructions either. Leave out the adverbs, though, and present perfect becomes more likely.
     
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    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you, both.

    I'm a little confused.
    What do you think of these examples that I found on Google?:)

    I don't think I've ever told you, but I love the way you spell your name!
    I don't think I've ever told you how beautiful you are.
    I don't think I've ever told you, but I've always considered you my hero.
    I don't think I ever told you but your art is so pretty and cool!!
    I don't think I ever told you, how much I appreciate the things you do.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Thank you, both.

    I'm a little confused.
    What do you think of these examples that I found on Google?:)

    I don't think I've ever told you, but I love the way you spell your name!
    I don't think I've ever told you how beautiful you are.
    I don't think I've ever told you, but I've always considered you my hero.
    I don't think I ever told you but your art is so pretty and cool!!
    I don't think I ever told you, how much I appreciate the things you do.
    These are fine, except that the last one should not have a comma.

    None of these is about notifying someone of a specific event in the past.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you very much.:)

    I don't think I've ever told you, but I love the way you spell your name!
    I don't think I've ever told you how beautiful you are.
    I don't think I've ever told you, but I've always considered you my hero.
    I don't think I ever told you but your art is so pretty and cool!!
    I don't think I ever told you, how much I appreciate the things you do.
    And in the above examples, there's no difference between using the present perfect or the past simple?


    What about these? Do they refer to a specific event in the past?

    I don't think I've ever told you
    this, but years ago I used to make my own earrings, necklaces, bracelets… you name it.
    I don't think I've ever told you this, but that was one of those little moments when I realized I married the right man.
    I don't think I ever told you this but the months I spent on that farm were the best months of my life.
    I don't think I ever told you this, but I met their mother, the real Mrs. Klinghoffer, on Amsterdam Avenue before I sang in the opera.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    Phoebe, this is yet again the same question. Both the present perfect and the simple past are acceptable. There is no difference in meaning. The word "ever" precludes the possibility of there being one specific instance.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Phoebe, this is yet again the same question. Both the present perfect and the simple past are acceptable. There is no difference in meaning. The word "ever" precludes the possibility of there being one specific instance.
    I respectfully disagree. "Ever" does not always refer to the same interval of opportunity, so "I never did" and "I never have" are not exactly interchangeable. "I never did" says that I did not at any time "back then" (e.g. when I might have been expected to), but "I never have" says that I haven't at any time in the interval of time that extends all the way up until now. In other words, if I never have, then clearly I never did, but if I never did, then perhaps since then I have.
    Thank you very much.:)And in the above examples, there's no difference between using the present perfect or the past simple?
    I believe there is always a difference.

    Sorry, but I thought I saw have in the last two examples. As written, without have, they are a little unusual. Their subordinate clauses are in present tense and express an ongoing state, not a specific event in the past. In this environment, the past tense seems to refer to an interval of opportunity that ended in the past. I never told you during that interval of opportunity.
    What about these? Do they refer to a specific event in the past?
    Some do, in a way, but Sevendays is right in saying it depends on the speaker's temporal perspective.

    This does not mean, however, that we don't have need for both tense-aspect combinations to express everything we need to about the real world.

    "Ever" means "at any time(s) in the time interval". What time interval? With present perfect, some time interval that extends up until now; with simple past, a time interval that ended before. When did it end? That depends on context, and sometimes only the speaker knows.

    Ducky might be thinking of a short time interval just after the event in question, but more likely he is thinking of a time shortly after he and Abby first met, or some reasonable time interval, or a series of opportunities, in which he meant to tell her (and might have told her) about the event in question but did not.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    Sorry Forero but I think you're in a minority - if someone says "I don't think I ever told you", I would always understand that to mean at any time up to the present, and not at any time in some unspecified period in the past. Whilst it would be possible to limit the time period, I believe this would have to be done explicitly (I don't think I ever told you when we were children, for example). In the absence of some time-limited qualifier, and allowing for differences in usage between native speakers, I would view it as wholly unreasonable to assume that the nuance is intentional.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    What about these? Do they refer to a specific event in the past?

    I don't think I've ever told you
    this, but years ago I used to make my own earrings, necklaces, bracelets… you name it.
    I don't think I've ever told you this, but that was one of those little moments when I realized I married the right man.
    I don't think I ever told you this but the months I spent on that farm were the best months of my life.
    I don't think I ever told you this, but I met their mother, the real Mrs. Klinghoffer, on Amsterdam Avenue before I sang in the opera.
    I don't expect this to help much, but—

    "Years ago I used to ..." is not about a single event.
    "That was one ... " is not about an event.
    "The months I spent ... were ..." is not about a single event.
    "I met their mother ..." is about a specific event in the past.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    I don't expect this to help much, but—

    "Years ago I used to ..." is not about a single event.
    "That was one ... " is not about an event.
    "The months I spent ... were ..." is not about a single event.
    "I met their mother ..." is about a specific event in the past.
    I appreciate your reply, Forero.:)

    I only forgot to ask if these examples are actually idiomatic, correct to use, I mean, especially the
    "I don't think I('ve) ever told you" part as a way to start the sentences.
    I don't think I've ever told you this, but years ago I used to make my own earrings, necklaces, bracelets… you name it.
    I don't think I've ever told you this, but that was one of those little moments when I realized I married the right man.
    I don't think I ever told you this but the months I spent on that farm were the best months of my life.
    I don't think I ever told you this, but I met their mother, the real Mrs. Klinghoffer, on Amsterdam Avenue before I sang in the opera.
    Because I got a little confused when I read your comment below since it made me think that "I don't think I('ve) ever told you" is a wrong combination of words. Is it?
    The adverb ever is very unusual in a positive context. "I don't think ..." is negative, and "Did I ...?" is interrogative. We would not say "I ever told you ..." in a positive sentence.
     

    Kirusha

    Senior Member
    In the absence of some time-limited qualifier, and allowing for differences in usage between native speakers, I would view it as wholly unreasonable to assume that the nuance is intentional.

    The presupposed qualifier (of which a native speaker doesn't need to be consciously aware to speak their language) could be "until this very moment", which introduces discreteness into the flow of time "up to now").
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    The presupposed qualifier (of which a native speaker doesn't need to be consciously aware to speak their language) could be "until this very moment", which introduces discreteness into the flow of time "up to now").
    Good point.
    Sorry Forero but I think you're in a minority - if someone says "I don't think I ever told you", I would always understand that to mean at any time up to the present, and not at any time in some unspecified period in the past. Whilst it would be possible to limit the time period, I believe this would have to be done explicitly (I don't think I ever told you when we were children, for example). In the absence of some time-limited qualifier, and allowing for differences in usage between native speakers, I would view it as wholly unreasonable to assume that the nuance is intentional.
    My theory: Present perfect and simple past have different meanings, as is evident in the fact that one is incompatible with time adverbials with a certain meaning, and the other is incompatible with time adverbials with a certain other meaning. Both verb forms are compatible with "ever" because "ever" is unrestricted in meaning. "Ever" means "at any time", and context, including the form of verb used, allows us to understand "ever" as "at any time in the future", "at any time in the past", "at any time all the way up to the present", or "at any time whatsoever".

    Would you say "I eventually told him ...", or "I have eventually told him ..."?
    I appreciate your reply, Forero.:)

    I only forgot to ask if these examples are actually idiomatic, correct to use, I mean, especially the
    "I don't think I('ve) ever told you" part as a way to start the sentences.

    Because I got a little confused when I read your comment below since it made me think that "I don't think I('ve) ever told you" is a wrong combination of words. Is it?
    There is nothing wrong with it. The -n't in don't makes "I don't think I('ve) ever told you" negative.

    And unusual does not mean wrong. For example, the use of ever in "Dear Alma Mater, our cause shall ever be / Honor, faith, and love to thee" is unusual but certainly not ungrammatical.
     
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    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    Forero, you seem to have misinterpreted my earlier reply. I am not saying that there is no difference between the simple past and the present perfect. I am saying that when they are combined with "ever", without an additional time modifier, as in these examples, they have the same meaning, namely "at any time up until now".
    I don't think I ever told you x
    I don't think I've ever told you x
    If you think there is a difference I meaning then the past simple form would need to mean that there was some possibility that the telling has in fact been done since the end of the unspecified period in the past which the speaker has in mind.

    Secondly, as has been discussed in numerous other threads, many native speakers, particularly AE speakers, substitute the simple past for the present perfect, and for those speakers there is definitely no difference between the forms.

    When Phoebe asked about a specific event, I was assuming, since the discussion is about "I told/I've told", that she was referring to the telling being a specific event. Obviously what was told could be anything at all. As I already said, neither "I ever told" or "I've ever told" versions of the examples can refer to a specific telling opportunity - by definition they refer to a span of time from the first moment telling would have been possible up to the present moment.u
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It is certainly idiomatic. Is it appropriate? That is a different question, which depends on context.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you, Wandle.
    Is it appropriate?
    Could you tell me if "I don't think I('ve) ever told you" is appropriately used in the below examples? Are they idiomatic?

    I don't think I've ever told you this, but years ago I used to make my own earrings, necklaces, bracelets… you name it.
    I don't think I've ever told you this, but that was one of those little moments when I realized I married the right man.
    I don't think I ever told you this but the months I spent on that farm were the best months of my life.
    I don't think I ever told you this, but I met their mother, the real Mrs. Klinghoffer, on Amsterdam Avenue before I sang in the opera.
    I don't think I've ever told you, but I love the way you spell your name!
    I don't think I've ever told you how beautiful you are.
    I don't think I've ever told you, but I've always considered you my hero.
    I don't think I ever told you but your art is so pretty and cool!!
    I don't think I ever told you how much I appreciate the things you do.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Again, those are all idiomatic expressions, but it is the preceding context which would tell us if they were appropriate. This is particularly true in regard to the choice of tense ('told' versus 'have told').

    This is a different question from the one addressed in post 3 and onwards.
     
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