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‘Ever’ and the present perfect

6a00d8341d417153ef01116862dd4a970c-800wiUsually when as English teachers we explain the present perfect to students we take as example sentences questions with the word ever like ‘have you ever been to London?”. As a teacher I use such an example to highlight that because the student I’m asking the question to is most certainly alive (maybe bored to death but still alive), the question refers to an unfinished time. One could also add ‘in your life?’ at the end of the question to make this point clearer:

‘have you ever been to London in your life?’

For the sake of simplicity, some students end up thinking that every time they use ‘ever‘ (or the negative ‘never‘) the tense to be used is the present perfect. This is fairly normal as people often feel the need for some rules to cling to when learning a new language.

These same students when given the sentence “did you ever play/have you ever played truant* when you were at school?” and asked to choose the right option  will go for ‘have you ever’.

Even though you might usually have heard ‘ever’ used with the present perfect, in the above sentence we are talking about ‘when you were at school’** and therefore about a finished past experience. Hence, as with all events in a finished time, the right tense to use in this instance is the past simple: ‘did you ever play truant when you were at school?’.

To this question, you could answer ‘Yes, I did. ‘ or ‘No, I never did’ (if you go for the latter, you’ll obviously sound like a nerd 🙂 )

Along the same lines, if I asked you about your great-grandfather ‘did he ever take you to the stadium?’ , I would be using a past simple and assume you don’t have the longest living great-grandfather in town.

Again on the same topic, remember that ‘ever’ can also be used with the present simple when asking about your habits or everyday life like in the following examples:

‘Do you ever go to the cinema?’
‘Do you ever phone in sick when you’re not ill?’ 

I hope this post has cleared some of your doubts, folks!

*You play truant when you don’t go to school and you don’t tell your parents.
** I am assuming you’re not at school anymore, in the sense that you finished college/uni.