English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I was taught that ever should be used in questions (Have you ever...?) and never should be used in negations (I have never...). But reading "A wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula K. Le Guin I spotted such a sentence: "Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light?"

Is that grammatically correct? What does the author want to say by this?

share|improve this question
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Consider the slight difference between the two following sentences:

Do you love her?

Don't you love her?

The first is a mere question that requires an answer — yes or no. The second implies surprise. The asker would assume that he does love her, but has some (indirect) evidence for the contrary and is expressing his surprise with a negative interrogative question.

Now, the same difference is between:

Have you ever thought...?

which is just a question with no special implication of surprise, and

Have you never thought...?

which implies that the person who's asking expects one to have thought about it.

Using never in an interrogative question makes it negative-interrogative, e.g. "Aren't you...?" "Didn't he...?" "Won't they...?" etc.

share|improve this answer
I see, it means the same Haven't you ever...?. – D_E Apr 15 '12 at 17:44
@DmitryEskin: Yes, it does – Armen Ծիրունյան Apr 15 '12 at 17:47

Yes it is correct. The questioner by using this form implies that the questioner believes it likely that the person he's asking has thought "how danger...".

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.