Let's pretend that you recently started working for a company. This company has a yearly Christmas party, and you are wondering whether you're expected to go.


Are we expected to attend these Christmas parties every year?


I have not gone before, and my boss still loves me.

As a native English speaker, there seems to be a frustrating ambiguity. Your coworker could mean:

I have never gone, and my boss still loves me.


There have been one or more years in which I didn't go, and my boss still loves me.

In English, it seems that "I have gone" doesn't imply having always gone, but "I have not gone" does imply having never gone.

Is there a concise way of indicating the opposite of "I have gone"?


By opposite of "I have gone", I meant the opposite of what it conveys.

"I have gone" conveys:

One or more times, I have gone.

The opposite would convey:

One or more times, I have not gone.


I have failed to attend before.


I have been absent before.

(Basically, any sentence where you can embed the negativity into the semantics into one of the other words (such as fail or absent) — rather than using not — will eliminate the ambiguity of where not applies.)

  • 2
    More casually, "I've skipped it before." – Jason Orendorff Apr 20 '11 at 0:27

This is a tricky area of English grammar. I think we might be missing a tense or something.

Your original phrase I have not gone before... does mean what you want, but it's a variation many people would not pick up on. This is because the not can bind to both have and to gone, but most native speakers will assume it binds to have. To make it bind instead to gone, you have to split the clause.

An experienced, native speaker would probably say I have sometimes not gone before... which naturally conveys the meaning you want. Even if it would sound awkward to some speakers.


You don't have to talk about it in the past tense. You can describe yourself, rather than describing your past actions. The most natural thing for me to say is

I don't always go

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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