I never was / I've never been

etiennelj

New Member
French (Québec, Canada)
Hello everyone,

I keep reading/hearing both "I never was" and "I've never been" so I know there's a difference but I can't grasp it... So, could you give examples and explain the differences in use and meaning between those two sentence fragments?

Thank you very much!
 
  • koniecswiata

    Senior Member
    Am English
    Genrally, according to the English grammar that is taught in textbooks, it is more correct to use the present perfect with NEVER. However, besides the fact that North American English does not really adhere to this "rule" there may be standard contexts in which the simple past would be used.
    For example, a situation that is clearly set in the past.
    Example: "When I lived in Japan, I never ate sushi."
    with "to be": "Last year, I never was on time."

    The simple past would pretty much be used when using phrases such as: Last..., when..., while..., in the past, ago, and probably a few more.

    Hope that helps a bit.
     

    etiennelj

    New Member
    French (Québec, Canada)
    I see... With a given period of time that is over, such as "last year", "yesterday", etc., I can understand the use of the simple past with "never". However, while this makes sense to me and to most native English speakers apparently, is it even grammatically correct?

    I was under the impression that you could never use "never" with the simple past tense, at least in written English. For example, grammatically speaking and even if it sounds somewhat odd to my ears, wouldn't it be better to say:

    "When I lived in Japan, I've never eaten sushi."

    ...or is it simply grammatically wrong since that period of time is over?

    The thing is I keep hearing "I never was" in situations and for periods of time that are clearly not over, for example:

    "I never was big on vegetables."... That kind of use of simple past is really weird, isn't it? I mean, unless you're a ghost or something like that!

    Thanks!
     

    koniecswiata

    Senior Member
    Am English
    It is absolutely correct to use NEVER in the examples I previously gave. NEVER is put into a past context. In fact, the present perfect would be incorrect in those examples. The present perfect would be correct if the contexts were left open.
    I think that textbooks for teaching English have traditionally been sooo focused on the NEVER+Present Perfect link that they tend to neglect the other (correct) use--that may create that perception that many learners of English have.

    The other example: "I never was big on vegetables..." or "I never was there." is typical for North American spoken English. In standard English, as taught in textbooks, it would be wrong, but as you can hear, the real living language is not always exactly the same. In fact, that sort of use probably sounds correct to all (or virtually all) speakers of NA English. However, I would wager that British speakers would find it incorrect sounding since they do really use the present perfect in as in the textbooks, i.e "I have never been big on vegetables." Whereas, a North American would either say that OR say "I never was big on vegetables." Long live diversity!

    Take care.
     

    etiennelj

    New Member
    French (Québec, Canada)
    Thank you very much! You've made everything clear now! The "problem" lies in the differences between spoken/written and NA/Br, but particularly in the fact that when I speak English I worry so much about making mistakes that I tend to be much more purist than most native English speakers actually are! Anyway, thank you very much!
     

    dn88

    Senior Member
    Polish
    The difference is that "I never + past simple" has no direct connection to the present and possibly refers to a single occasion when something happened or could have happened, whereas "I have never + past participle" defines a period starting at one point in the past that continues up to the moment of speaking.

    - Are you angry with me?
    - No, I'm not. I never was.

    The speaker is referring to a definite time period that is over now, when they theoretically could have been angry with the other person.

    I'm pretty sure this and similar topics have already been discussed to extinction in a considerable number of threads, it's just that I can't seem to be able to find those that would be particularly useful right now.
     

    etiennelj

    New Member
    French (Québec, Canada)
    But, in your example, you could have said "I've never been" too, right? Since the period in question started when they first met and still continues up until now (well, up until the time they speak...). How in your example do you understand that the time period is over?

    Same thing if I ask someone this:

    - Have you ever been to Europe?
    - No, I've never been to Europe. (not "I never went to Europe")

    Isn't your example and the one I just gave here similar in terms of time boundaries?
     

    Lcb100

    New Member
    English - UK
    No replies here for years, but I came across this page in the top results of a Google search. So it may be worth commenting upon.

    When to use either form can be really confusing to non-native speakers.
    This is so especially when people bring up the possibility of that one form may be "more correct" than another generally, in addition to that it seems there may be specific occasions when one form is used and another isn't.


    The basic element to understand about the two forms ...

    "I never + past simple" and "I have never + past participle"

    ... is that, generally, either form is absolutely correct to use.
    There is one case of exception to this rule, see towards the end of this comment.

    There is no form of the two which is more correct than the other.
    The two tenses mean exactly the same thing in most uses.

    It's more usual that the same form is kept in a conversation, but not required.

    For example:
    - Have you ever been to New Zealand?
    - I've never been to New Zealand.
    is much more usual.

    Some say to switch forms in a discussion is undesirable, some say gramatically incorrect.
    It's not technically grammatically uncorrect, but may sound unusual.
    - I never went to New Zealand.
    After the question, that's still correct.

    Someone suggested there may be a difference between North American & British usage.
    But the same rule is true for American & British English - both forms are correct usually, and mean exactly the same thing, and are both in common usage in both languages.

    ---

    The exception to this is with a stated time or period in the conversation or context:
    "Last Saturday", "When I lived in Japan", "That autumn".

    You cannot use the form "I have never + past participle" with a specified time or time period

    A specific time or period in the meaning of the phrase compels the use only of the form
    "I never + past simple".

    Correct:
    Last Saturday, I never ate an egg.
    When I lived in Japan, I never went to the zoo.
    That autumn, I was never big on vegetables.

    Correct:
    Did you ask about the ticket prices last Wednesday?
    I never asked about the ticket prices. [Last Wednesday].

    But when there is no time or period mentioned in the conversation or context:

    Correct:
    Did you ask about the ticket prices?
    [No time period given, if one is implied it is unclear if it may be relevant to the answer]
    I have never asked them about the ticket prices, actually. [CORRECT]


    Just to be clear and show that the form "I have never + past participle" is always incorrect with time or time periods discussed:

    Incorrect:
    Last Saturday, I have never eaten an egg. ... ALWAYS INCORRECT.
    When I lived in Japan, I have never been to the zoo. ... ALWAYS INCORRECT.
    That Autumn, I never have been big on vegetables. ... ALWAYS INCORRECT.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Hello, Lcb,
    Welcome to the forum! :) And thank you very much for posting such a detailed and enlightening answer to the half-a-decade-old question. I feel your posts will greatly help learners like me on the forum.:)

    In regard to the question in question, I think there are two meanings that "subject + never + past tense" could have: 1. The subject did not do that on any occasions, 2. The subject did not do that on that occasion ( there was only a single occasion but the "never" is used in place of "not" just for the sake of emphasis, which is considered incorrect/unacceptable by (some/most?) grammar books).
    Examples:
    a) I never served your girlfriend non-vegetarian food. (Whenever she visited me, I served her vegetarian food only.)

    b) I never introduced your girlfriend to my boss. (On the only occasion she visited my workplace, I did not at all introduce her to my boss).
     

    Ashraful Haque

    Senior Member
    Bengali
    After going through the post I have a few question. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    1) So I didn't know what a penthouse was until recently. So I said- "I never even heard of the word penthouse until recently."
    Is 'I never' correct here since I'm talking about an incident that ended as soon as I learned about penthouse?

    2) I met a person in a game online and said- "Hey aren't you from Pakistan? We played together just the other day."
    I'm a little confused here since there is a connection to the present. Should I've said "We've played together.....?"
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    1) So I didn't know what a penthouse was until recently. So I said- "I never even heard of the word penthouse until recently."
    "I had never even heard of the word penthouse until recently" is better.
    You might say "I'd never even heard...". In conversation the -d might not be heard clearly.

    "We played together just the other day"
    This sentence is correct. You are talking about something that happened at a specific time in the past.
     

    Ashraful Haque

    Senior Member
    Bengali
    "I had never even heard of the word penthouse until recently" is better.
    You might say "I'd never even heard...". In conversation the -d might not be heard clearly.

    You said it's better. Does that mean it's not incorrect?

    Is the following sentence correct:
    "I had never met her before until last night."
     

    galakha

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian
    I heard the following sentence in a movie. It's from the AmE one.

    You were never a real father or a husband.

    Is it because they no longer live under the same roof or/and because he doesn't take care of them anymore that "were" was used? Otherwise "have been" might have been used.
    Or AmE speakers generally prefer to use "were" in such sentences, whereas BrE speakers would be more likely to say "have been"?
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    You were never....
    The time to be a real father or a husband has passed. It's too late now, for whatever reason.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Is it because they no longer live under the same roof or/and because he doesn't take care of them anymore that "were" was used?
    More generally,
    - if never refers to a time fully in the past, it attracts the past tense
    - if never refers to period of past time that continued to the present period, it attracts the present perfect tense.
     
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