I can never win.


I can't ever win.

Can these be used interchangeably? Is there a case where one would work and the other wouldn't?

  • 3
    Yes. They both mean the same thing (I can not ever win) and they are both formed by contraction of the not, with one crucial difference: I can never win contracts not and ever, while I can't ever win contracts not and can. – John Lawler Dec 18 '14 at 21:45

Grammatically, they are absolutely interchangeable. Any advantage in one over the other would be a question of style.

In I can never win, the "n" in "never" stands for the negative "not". In I can't ever win, the "n't" in "can't" stands for the same negative "not". The effective statement in both formulas is the negative I can not win with "ever" modifying "win" as an adverb.


"never" is a simple statement of fact, whereas "not ever" says that it is a stronger command or statement.

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage! This answer is a useful addition to clarify the implications of the word choice, however it would be improved by elaboration and citing sources if possible. It's a bit short and vague at the moment. – SuperBiasedMan Mar 4 '16 at 11:14
  • You also need to address the actual examples given, which don't include 'not ever'. If you're claiming that one formulation adds emphasis, the exact nature of the expression becomes important. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 4 '16 at 11:45

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