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I usually come late to the daily scrum meetings (but I do compensate, by working late!). For the last 6 working days, I have been coming on time, or even slightly earlier.

At lunch, I told my manager this

I have never been late for the daily scrum for this sprint (last 6 working days).

He told me that my usage is incorrect because, I cannot use never and restrict it to a time period. Never, apparently, is for eternity, e.g, I have never drunk Russian vodka.

What is the correct usage?

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3  
"When I was a kid, I never went to Disneyland." --Rodney Dangerfield –  Kris May 15 '12 at 14:02
    
During the month of July, it never rained. –  Joe Blow Aug 22 at 12:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Never means not ever and the timespan of ever is from the beginning of time to the end of time.

In day to day use, the timespan of ever/never is the lifetime of the subject of the sentence. They are also used as intensifiers, for example:

I would never eat radish with fish.

This is an intensified version of

I wouldn't eat radish with fish.

The use of never here just means "in my current state of mind, this is not going to happen" or "I strongly advise against".

Another example is

I have loved Brad Pitt forever!

In this example it is unlikely that the person speaking has loved Brad Pitt since they were born, and the use of forever is just to mean that the infatuation is incredibly strong.

In conclusion,

I have never been late for the daily scrum for this sprint.

is an emphatic form of

I have not been late for the daily scrum for this sprint.

Have been is normally used when talking about a current action, so you can use it while the sprint is ongoing, and it's not wrong to use for when the sprint is over. However, it is more usual to use was to refer to a finished action:

I was never late for the daily scrums for the last sprint.

Also note the use of scrums, because you're talking about all the scrums.

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Hmm, I don't know that it's wrong to qualify "never" with a time frame.

Like Shakespeare: "Never since the middle summer's spring / Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead ..." (Midsummer Nights Dream) He's not saying they never met, just that they had never met "since middle summer's spring".

Since the Nazi massacres, a classic slogan has been "Never again". (Sorry if someone feels I'm trivializing the deaths of millions by using it for a grammar example.) Clearly it's not "never": the whole point is that it certainly did happen at least once. But "never AGAIN".

"The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind." --E.B. White. Not absolutely never, but never SINCE CHILDHOOD.

Etc.

In your example, the qualification is not even explicitly about time, but only indirectly. You can legitimately put all sorts of qualifiers on a "never". If I say, "I have never been late for a meeting at this company", that statement could be completely true, even if I have been late for meetings at other companies. But it puts an implicit time limit on it, namely, since I started working at this company.

Of course you can play word games with this -- the sort of word games that politicians, lawyers, and advertisers love to play. Like, "Senator Jones, is it true that you took a $10,000 bribe from Mr Smith?" "Absolutely not. Mr Smith never gave me $10,000." No, because it was actually his partner, Mr Brown, who gave the senator the money, or because the amount was really $15,000.

If you said, "I have never been late for a meeting for this project", I'd take that as a reasonable and honest statement. You may have been late for meetings for other projects, but not this one. "Never ... on this sprint" is arguably playing word games, but your statement could be quite true as said.

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Never is included in the list of adverbs of indefinite frequency (along with seldom, sometimes, often, always). Never implies no beginning and no end. It is not given with a time period.

Your vodka example (if true) is correct. You would want to reword your other statement, "I have not been late for the daily scrums for this sprint for the past six working days." (Or more concisely, "I have not been late for the past six daily scrums.")

If there had been only six practices and you had arrived on time to every one of them (which you say was not the case), then you could have said, "I have never been late for the daily scrums for this sprint." (But then you would not need to qualify the statement with the time period of six working days.) Unfortunately, your record of tardiness prevents you from using the word never in this case.

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I am half tempted to down vote this for the last line :-) But it is a Tuesday afternoon and my manager and myself had a good laugh, so +1 –  Kanini May 15 '12 at 15:21
    
I almost put a :) behind that sentence, but I know some ELU participants frown upon that in answers. Glad you took it the right way! –  JLG May 15 '12 at 16:16

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