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I never thought he would stoop to such levels

or

I have never thought he would stoop to such levels

Is there any difference between the two?

I was taught to use "never" only for present perfect tense but I have recently come across people using the word for past tense as well.

If there is no difference between the two in spoken English, which is more preferable in WRITTEN ENGLISH?

Thank you!

  • The first one presupposes (or at least invites the inference) that he did, in fact, stoop to those levels. The second comments on the speaker's history of belief in his stoop levels but offers no information about what he has done, except possibly to wonder why the speaker is bringing up the topic. – John Lawler Oct 24 '15 at 15:09
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It's a small but important usage distinction.

I never thought he would stoop to such levels.

This is used to agree that the person being discussed has failed at some point of character and the speaker is shocked by the fact. Equivalent: "I didn't realize he was such a bad man."

I have never thought he would stoop to such levels.

This would be used more often to suggest the opposite, to reassure someone that the person under discussion probably had not failed a particular test of character. It's the equivalent of saying "I've always thought he was a good man who would not do such things."

  • Thank you for quick response. I have a doubt. Why don't we use "I didn't realize he IS such a bad man." He is still a bad man. Then why "was" used ? – Vinay Oct 24 '15 at 13:32
  • Because it is customary in English to make the verbs agree in cases like this. – Robusto Oct 24 '15 at 13:45
  • @robusto - I agree but that doesn't work for another question asked by Vinay. Could you have a look at it?english.stackexchange.com/questions/282378/… – chasly from UK Oct 24 '15 at 14:35
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"Have never" works best with "be" verbs: "I have never been ... ." From a style perspective, it looks and sounds better in present perfect with a verb ending in "-ed": "I have never wondered [about/that] ... ." In your example, present perfect doesn't sound right--even if it's grammatically correct. Also, there's nothing wrong with "never" in past or present: "I am never going to his house again," for instance.

  • 1
    I hope you don't mind some constructive feedback. You have made several claims but not substantiated them. For example I have never heard the rule that 'Have never' works best with 'be' verbs'. Can you give a link to where this is explained in detail or alternatively explain it yourself? Why do you say that "present perfect doesn't sound right--even if it's grammatically correct"? I offered an example where it is correct and normal in my answer. Is there something wrong with my example? Maybe you could comment on it. Thanks. – chasly from UK Oct 24 '15 at 14:30
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(a) I have never thought he would stoop to such levels.

This means that I have never thought this and I still don't think it now.

E.g.

I have known John for twenty years and during that time I have never once thought he would stoop to such levels.


(b) I never thought he would stoop to such levels.

This (usually) means that, at a time in the past when I used to know this person, I didn't have such a thought but, although I trusted him then, I have changed my mind.

E.g.

Back in the old days, I never thought he would stoop to such levels [correct]

Back in the old days, I have never thought he would stoop to such levels [incorrect]

  • I don't mind being wrong. It's just a website? My editor finds my grammar choices "interesting." I suppose that is what collaboration is for, and apparently, very little escapes your site scans. It's all good. – Stu W Oct 24 '15 at 15:01

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