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[i]

As I matured and the protective cartilage at the ends of my bones wore away, as cartilage tends to do, the pain became more acute. And yet, instead of complaining, I tried to hide my problem. Perhaps I have always been more like Eve than I’ve ever admitted, for I distrusted the medical world immensely, and I found ways to compensate for my disability so I could avoid a diagnosis that would undoubtedly hasten my demise. (Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain)

[ii]

It is better than it has ever been. (CGEL, p144)

CGEL says, in [ii] “the comparison is between its quality now and its quality at any time within the time-span –– clearly the potential for it to be of such and such a quality still exists”. From this, I guessed the meaning of ever was at any time within the time-span. But after having consulted OALD, it seems like ever might just be an intensifier in comparative constructions, having lost the said meaning.

Which way should I understand ever in these constructions?

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I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. The emphasis in OALD’s second meaning seems to derive from a direct extension of the primary “at any time” sense, though it ranges into the realm of the non-literal by exaggerating something in a way all involved know may not be a perfectly exact comparison between the current event and all times before.

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