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Which is grammatically correct?

You are the prettiest girl I ever saw.

or

You are the prettiest girl I have ever seen?

Apologies if this has been asked before. First time here.

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1 Answer 1

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This is actually a rather difficult question, since there's a great deal of variation between dialects and speakers on this issue.

Essentially, the present perfect is typically used to describe past events that are somehow relevant to the current state of affairs. Take:

  1. My family has lived in your attic for six months.
  2. My family lived in your attic for six months.

Here (1) implies that my family is still there, whereas (2) implies that we've left.

A similar criterion applies to statements about the existence of past events, insofar as they describe a period of time leading up to the present, establishing a fact about what is presently the case. Take these two sentences:

  1. I went to the dumpster down the street.
  2. I've gone to the dumpster down the street.

Here, (1) describes a single occurrence of the event in the past; you might use it when telling a story. But (2), by contrast, quantifies over all the occurrences of the event up to the present time, and says that at least one such occurrence exists; you might use it when listing different places you've visited.

However, American English in particular allows you to break this rule in certain circumstances, creating a "present-relevant simple past." (My source for the below is partly Geoff Lindsey's video on the topic.) This occurs most frequently when the present-relevance of a situation is made obvious by an adverb like just, yet, already, as in:

  1. I'm not hungry; I already ate.
  2. Did you see the movie yet?
  3. I just finished the project.

In your example, the present-relevance is made obvious by the word ever:

  1. You are the prettiest girl I ever saw.

In general, sentences like the above are more acceptable to American than British speakers. But intuitions about such examples can vary widely between speakers. To me, the above all sound fine, but some American speakers would reject them. At the same time, the American usage pattern is slowly spreading across the Atlantic, so some British speakers would accept at least some of the above.

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  • My two cents: I have ever seen is unquestionably grammatically correct on both sides of the Atlantic, so you might as well use it. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 12:24
  • With this particular example, 'She is the prettiest girl I ever did see' is also a reasonable candidate. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 14:38
  • If she's Daisy Mae, she might let you ask her to the hootenanny, if'n yer not someone who's got no money and who ain't never had no money.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 21:25
  • In rereading both sentences, I feel that "You are the prettiest girl I have ever seen" sounds more elegant than "...I ever saw." I always side with elegance. Thank you all.
    – R.P.
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 11:51

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