In English, the present perfect is often used to introduce past experiences.  The present perfect with “ever” and “never” is a more specific sentence structure to talk about something that has or has not happened at any time.

Structure: Present Perfect with “Ever” and “Never”

Statement → [Subject] + has/have + never + [verb phrase].

Question → Have/Has + [subject] + ever + [verb phrase]?

So why is this kind of structure necessary?  On the surface it may seem that these pairs of sentences have the same meaning:

  • Have you been to London?
  • Have you ever been to London?

 

  • I have not been to London.
  • I have never been to London.

However, consider that you can use the present perfect with current time phrases to talk about experience within a specific period of time.  For example:

  • Have you been to London this year?
  • Incorrect: Have you ever been to London this year?

In the first example, the speaker realizes that the listener may have visited London in the past.  But the speaker wants to know if the listener has visited London this year.  When using “ever” in a present perfect question, the meaning is “Have you been to London at any time (this year or previously).”

  • I haven’t been to London lately.
  • Incorrect: I have never been to London lately.

Choosing the correct sentence

So when should you use the basic present perfect vs. the present perfect with “ever” or “never”?  Recall that “ever” and “never” mean “at any time.”  Therefore, native speakers often use “ever” sentences to ask about events or experiences that are uncommon, or that the speaker doubts the listener has encountered.  “Never” sentences are often used to emphasize that something has “not happened even once,” especially in situations where this fact might be unexpected or impressive.  For example:

Unusual experiences

  • Have you ever gone skydiving?
  • Have you ever visited the pyramids in Egypt?
  • Has she ever missed work before?
  • Has he ever been this angry?
  • Has work ever been so busy before?

Unexpected/Impressive situations

  • I have never had a tooth cavity.
  • I live in New York, but have never visited the Statue of Liberty.
  • She has never gotten below a B on a test.
  • He has never tried sushi.
  • They have never been late to work.
  • I have never been to a McDonalds.

Language Tips:

Note: Don’t use “ever” in answers to questions or other non-question sentences.  For example:

  • Have you ever seen the Great Wall?
    • Correct: No, I have never seen the Great Wall.
    • Correct: Yes, I have seen the Great Wall.
    • Incorrect: Yes, I have ever seen the Great Wall.

Exception: When responding to an “ever” question, you can use “never ever” to emphasize the sense of “not even once.”  However, be careful.  This type of sentence is very strong and also has the sense of, “not even once, and I would not want to.”  For example:

  • Have you ever eaten snake?
    • Correct: No, I have never ever eaten snake!
    • Incorrect: No, I have never ever eaten snake! But I would like to try it. (these two sentences are grammatically correct, but they don’t make sense logically)