I don't know if my title serves well in expressing what I am actually trying to ask, so maybe an example will do better:

I have done it already. <-> I have not done it yet.

I waited patiently, and he eventually returned. <-> I waited patiently, but he didn't ??? return.

My non-native-English-speaking intuition tells me that the same word eventually wouldn't be appropriate in the negative sentence, the same way as already wouldn't in the first example. Is there any truth in this? Assuming there is, I would normally use never + Past Indefinite to express the "opposite"1 of eventually

I waited patiently, and he eventually returned. <-> I waited patiently, but he never returned.

However, I started having doubts whether this usage of never expresses what I used to assume it did, the reason being that I was unable to find this meaning of never in the dictionary (I checked Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster). According to Dictionary.com:

never can be used instead of not with the simple past tenses of certain verbs for emphasis ( I never said that; I never realized how clever he was ), but this usage should be avoided in serious writing

So, even if never is the word I am looking for (which according to the definition above it is not), it's said to be informal.

I am hoping someone could point to the word I am looking for, if there exists one, and also throw some light on this usage of never (for example, which "certain verbs" is Dictionary.com referring to? Does my example sentence sound natural?)

1 What is 'yet' to 'already', by the way? Is there a special term?

  • The relationship between yet and already is essentially one of equality. In your example, you're negating it in "...not done it yet". And yes, the "opposite" of eventually is indeed never. Your dictionary entry is talking about sloppy/informal usage of "I never" to mean "I did not". General reference. Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 22:01
  • 1
    You misunderstand me. It's informal (to many people, ignorant) to say "I never said that" when what you mean is "I didn't say that". You can use it correctly in similar constructions - "Well, I never did like him, but I'm sorry he's dead". The point is "never" shouldn't be used about the past if you're talking about a single event/action that didn't happen - only about things that could have happened many times, or over an extended period of time. If you use it to deny a single event at one point in time, it's usually considered at best "sloppy". Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 22:10
  • @FumbleFingers: (sorry for deleting my comment. I deleted it after you edited yours). I understand what you mean, but then why isn't this "correct and formal" meaning of never listed in any of the dictionaries I looked in? Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 22:12
  • Never in this context means not at any time. As M-W says, at no time. The "sloppy" usage is when people say, for example, "I never went to your 21st birthday party". Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 22:22

2 Answers 2


Ever is the word you're looking for. Both ever and yet, along with any, are Negative Polarity Items.
In fact, ever is suppletion for *anywhen, which is not allowed in English, although anywhere is.

It isn't never, which is a negative trigger itself, not a polarity item.

Since an NPI can only occur in the scope of a semantic negative, it's the not in have not done it that licenses yet; it would be ungrammatical if there were no negative.

  • I have not done it yet (grammatical)
  • *I have done it yet (ungrammatical)


  • I waited patiently, but he didn't ever return.
  • *I waited patiently, but he ever returned.

Negative polarity items are all idiomatic and often have very strange syntax. When you encounter something strange in English grammar, look around to see if there's some negative word or construction that's causing a disruption.

  • I don't get the parallelism that you're doing. Shouldn't the third example be "...but he never returned." (despite what the OP set up as in his first exxamples)?
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 2:26
  • Never is not ever. He never returned is grammatical. The not can be separated from the ever, as it is in the third example. But ever and yet require a negative to be grammatical. That's all. Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 2:41
  • Maybe for me the problem is that "...didn't ever..." sounds a little off.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 13:42
  • People vary a lot in what they find acceptable, especially with complex stuff like negation. Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 15:40

Your sample sentence sounds fine. You could also write "I waited patiently, but he did not return" and it would have the same meaning, especially if it's referring to one afternoon, rather than a year, for example.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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