3

"Harris Should Have Never Run for President" is the title of an article from the Los Angeles Times about Senator Harris' run for President.

When I read it the placement of "never" really grated, but I am not sure why. I would have said:

Harris Should Never Have Run for President

Or

Harris Never Should Have Run for President

However, I am having a hard time coming up with the appropriate rules to determine the correct placement of "never", and what, if any, semantic differences there are between the three placements. Can someone enlighten me?

(Obviously, comments on the merits or demerits of Senator Harris or the related article are completely OT. I am just interested in the grammar.)

Addendum.

A couple of notes: firstly, it looks like the Los Angeles Times has corrected this to "should never have run". Secondly, the discussion about it being a title is a bit of a red herring. I agree that titles do have less constraints on their grammatical form since they must be short and impactful. However, as commenters have pointed out, in this case the title was simply an excerpt from the first sentence of the article. So if y'all prefer we can discuss that first sentence rather than the title.

It has been suggested that this is a duplicate of this, and it is certainly similar. However, there is an important distinction: here the "never" is inserted into the middle of a group of words that together make up the verb "should have run" rather than just before or after the verb as addressed in the putative duplicate.

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of "I never was" vs. "I was never" (of which should never have been ... or ... should have never been was shut as a duplicate). – Edwin Ashworth Dec 4 '19 at 17:56
  • Not that anybody cares but I find all three mostly acceptable with no difference in formality (but then I'm no headline writer). Speaking quickly though, I would say 'shoulda' for both 1 and 3. – Mitch Dec 5 '19 at 20:38
  • @EdwinAshworth That 'never was vs was never' question got terrible answers, but this one has a good one and more traffic, so -that- one should be closed as a duplicate of this (despite the time problem). – Mitch Dec 5 '19 at 20:44
  • The other thread I mentioned has the medial (within the verb phrase) positioning. I did not close-vote there, and wonder why it was closed. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 6 '19 at 14:12
  • @Mitch The answer below should rather be submitted at the true duplicate (which should never have been ... or ... should have never been ) which should be re-opened. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 6 '19 at 14:14
8

This seems to be an American English vs British English issue. Here are the results of searching for these phrases in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA, 560 million words) and the British National Corpus (BNC, 100 million words). The percentages are the out of the total number of hits for all three phrasings in that corpus, i.e. 193/(193+840+480) × 100 = 13%.

                                          COCA                  BNC
should have never         193  (13%)           1   (0.4%)
should never have         840 (56%)        237 (97%)
never should have         480 (32%)          6    (2%)

Clearly, should have never is rarer than the alternatives in both COCA and BNC, but in the BNC it is much rarer. In COCA, it is 4.4 times and 2.5 times rarer, while in the BNC it is 237 and 6 times rarer.

Interestingly, never should have is also quite rare in the BNC, 40 times rarer than should never have.

For what it's worth, here are some examples of should have never in the published literature:

I should have never valued the Blackcoats' useless revolution over Benjy's life. (source)
I should have never moved here Frances. (source)
I should have never listened to you! (source)
He should have never put her in the middle of this situation. (source)
She was a halfbreed, the spawn of a marriage that should have never taken place. (source)
If we are so-called Americans, things should have never been this way. (source)
I should have never, ever let her crawl under my skin as she has. (source)
The evening was nice, but should have never taken precedent over the academics. (source)

For many, many more examples, see here.

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  • This assumes sentences in a text, whereas the OP's question concerns a newspaper article title. – Lambie Dec 4 '19 at 19:39
  • Thanks. I have used Google Ngrams before, and should have thought to do so here. But that web site looks very interesting too. Thanks for sharing. – Fraser Orr Dec 4 '19 at 21:14
  • Also, a quick suggestion that would clarify things -- perhaps you can put the percentages in brackets after the raw number to give an easier comparison? – Fraser Orr Dec 4 '19 at 21:15
  • @FraserOrr I added the percentages. BTW, I tried Google Ngrams here as well, but there were only one hit each for the three phrasings. – linguisticturn Dec 4 '19 at 21:34

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