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I was reading this phrase "will never have been" and I was wondering what grammatical structure does it belong to / is it grammatical? I'm not sure why but it sounds weird.

What is the difference between "will never have been" and "was never"?

1 Kings 3:12 (NIV)

I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

PS: This question is about English usage, and no, this question has nothing to do with exegesis.

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It sounds weird in this particular example because in context it hardly makes sense. The implication is that at the time God is speaking, there might actually be/have been people like Solomon. God promises to supercharge Solomon's heart so he will truly unique from that point onward, but what about the earlier Solomon? God says nothing about going back in time and sorting all that out, so the whole thing is left a bit vague. But will never have been is standard English. –  FumbleFingers Oct 9 '11 at 4:16
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@FumbleFingers: I don't know the whole Bible story, but in this sentence in isolation it makes perfect sense to me: after the heart operation, there will never have been anyone like you (Solomon): that is, at the moment following the change of heart, one will be able to say: there never has been anyone like Solomon. –  ShreevatsaR Oct 9 '11 at 6:32

2 Answers 2

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As user FumbleFingers pointed out, "will never have been" is standard English: you can find it in many books over the centuries.

Roughly, it indicates talking about the past at some future time. More precisely, "there will never have been X" means that at some future time, it will be true that "there has never been X". For instance,

The new weapons have not been tested, but it is planned to test them starting next August. If they are used later than that, they will have been tested before use. If war breaks out before that, they will never have been tested.

Or, to attempt self-reference :-),

Children entering school this year will leave in 2023. By the time they leave, most of them will never have been exposed to the phrase "will never have been".


The context you quoted:

I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you.

can be interpreted as:

  • Right now, since you (Solomon) have an ordinary heart, there have been others like you, and there are others like you.

  • After I give you the new heart, you will be unique: people will be able to say "there has never been anyone like Solomon". At that moment, there will never have been anyone like you.

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this is good stuff thx =D –  Pacerier Oct 9 '11 at 12:38

Yes, it’s grammatical. It’s the future perfect tense, formed:

will (not ) have + past participle (e.g., been, gone, had )

Which describes a future action that will occur before some specified point in the future. In your example, never is merely a qualifier that both negates (not) and adds emphasis (ever).

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Technically speaking, it is future tense. But if I give a brand-new still-wrapped toothbrush to a house-guest, I can just say "Here's a toothbrush that will never have been used by anyone else". Semantically, I'm talking about the past, not the future. –  FumbleFingers Oct 9 '11 at 4:07
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@FumbleFingers: Future perfect is for talking about the past of the future, that is, as though you were a future person (will) talking about a past event (have). –  Jon Purdy Oct 9 '11 at 4:18
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@BarrieEngland Grammarians do agree there's no dedicated future tense in English. However, as teaching tools, categories like future perfect are invaluable; saying we shouldn't try to make sense of future constructs because we lack an independent tense seems like a less than useful approach. –  onomatomaniak Oct 9 '11 at 7:33
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In my first example above, I don't think the actual time being referenced (past/present/future) is particularly relevant. I could just as easily have used has never, but per @Cerberus's engrossing answer here, I think will never have been simply emphasises expectation/certainty. Verb "tense" often relates to chronological time, but certainly not always, and sometimes in quite subtle ways. –  FumbleFingers Oct 9 '11 at 13:58
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Just think how messy this discussion will been when time travel was become invented. –  Optimal Cynic Oct 21 '11 at 9:02

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