I was taught that ever should be used in questions (Have you ever...?) and never should be used in negations (I have never...). But reading "A wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula K. Le Guin I spotted such a sentence: "Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light?"

Is that grammatically correct? What does the author want to say by this?

3 Answers 3


Consider the slight difference between the two following sentences:

Do you love her?

Don't you love her?

The first is a mere question that requires an answer — yes or no. The second implies surprise. The asker would assume that he does love her, but has some (indirect) evidence for the contrary and is expressing his surprise with a negative interrogative question.

Now, the same difference is between:

Have you ever thought...?

which is just a question with no special implication of surprise, and

Have you never thought...?

which implies that the person who's asking expects one to have thought about it.

Using never in an interrogative question makes it negative-interrogative, e.g. "Aren't you...?" "Didn't he...?" "Won't they...?" etc.

  • 4
    I see, it means the same Haven't you ever...?.
    – D_E
    Apr 15, 2012 at 17:44
  • 2
    @DmitryEskin: Yes, it does Apr 15, 2012 at 17:47

Yes it is correct. The questioner by using this form implies that the questioner believes it likely that the person he's asking has thought "how danger...".


Although questions using 'never' appear frequently in literature or rhetoric, in American English it would be uncommon in general everyday speech. (I'm not sure about this in British English.) The literary use is illustrated well by the quote you cited from A Wizard of Earthsea which also uses 'must' and a simile to achieve a poetic rhetorical effect.

In everyday speech it would be more common to phrase this kind of question using 'n't' + 'ever'

Poetic tone: Have you never thought how danger must surround power as shadow does light?

Everyday speech: Haven't you ever thought about how power is always surrounded by danger?

If the question is clearly not poetic, 'never' is not quite natural unless you're really emphasizing 'never': (?)Could you never go to the dentist?

Everyday speech: Couldn't you ever go to the dentist?

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