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Never Ever be Confused by This French Word Again! Posted by on Sep 15, 2016 in Grammar

Bonjour, tout le monde ! As a French student, you already know that the language is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a little tricky. When you learn a second language, you start to notice a few things about your native tongue that you may have never considered before. Why is our grammar this way? Why is further acceptable in one environment, but farther isn’t? You may never have questioned why the expression “cat got your tongue?” exists, but the gears started turning when you learn “donner sa langue au chat” in French. Why do you give your tongue to a cat when you give up on something??

Your curiosity may be piqued when you look up a translation to a word and see there is more than one option. Should you use an or année? Dans or en? Encore or toujours? There are plenty of confusing pairs in French – sometimes the difference is easy and other times it’s a bit tricky and you’ll have to follow a flowchart to get to the right word.

Today we’re looking at something that always threw me off when I first started learning French. Hakuna matata – this one is actually easy! Never vs ever is sometimes a bit confusing to English learners. Never means at no point in time. Ever means at any time. The problem is that both of these words are only 1 word in French: jamais. There is, however, one thing that distinguishes whether it’s never or ever.

 

Never
To say never in French, you need to use the negative adverb ne…jamais. You stick the verb right between the 2 words just as with any negation (ne…pas, ne…que, etc.).

Je n’ai jamais fumé. I have never smoked.
Elle ne veut jamais dîner avec moi. She never wants to eat with me.
Malgré sa jolie voix, elle ne chante jamais en public. Despite her beautiful voice, she never sings in public.

 

Ever
To say ever in French, you just remove the ne… before the verb. It can only mean ever if it’s followed by si (if) or if it’s a question.

Est-ce que tu a jamais visité Aix-en-Provence ? Have you ever visited Aix-en-Provence?
Je ne sais pas si tu as jamais appris ça, mais… I don’t know if you’ve ever learned this, but…

 

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The difference is pretty clear, but you may have heard in spoken French that the ne… is often dropped when saying something negative. If the difference between ever and never is the ne… before the verb, how do you know which it is when the ne… is dropped?

Just as in English, ne…jamais describes a negative event. If the sentence is referring to something negative, it is most certainly “never” and not ever.

Mon colocataire cuisine jamais à la maison. My roommate never cooks at home.

 

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About the Author: Josh Dougherty

Just your typical francophile. If you have any topics you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know!


Comments:

  1. Claire:

    Thank you! I have always wondered about the seeming lack of a word for “ever” in French!

  2. Paul:

    Most of the time, french speakers will replace ‘jamais’ by ‘déjà’ (already):
    Est-ce que tu a déjà visité Aix-en-Provence ? Have you ever visited Aix-en-Provence?
    Je ne sais pas si tu as déjà appris ça, mais… I don’t know if you’ve ever learned this, but…

    • Josh Dougherty:

      @Paul Yes, this is true! Thanks for bringing that up. I should edit this and mention it because you’ll hear this often.