I have a question related to the usage of 'ever'. My grammar book says the word 'ever' is used with present perfect tense when we want to say 'the time upto now'. But I found a lot of results that used 'ever' with simple tense and I have seen many movies where people have used 'ever' with simple past tense. I have searched a few grammar sites on the internet and I have found people saying it's a difference between American and British English. 

Here are two example sentences:

  • Christiano Ronaldo is the best football player I have ever seen.
  • Christiano Ronaldo is the best football player I ever saw.

I know the first form (using "present perfect") is the correct choice in formal writing but I've seen in speaking or informal writing I have seen both tenses are used. So if I used the "simple past tense" with "ever" (like in the second sentence), would I be considered incorrect? And does "simple past" sound natural to your ears? Is there truly any difference between American and British English regarding the usage of 'ever'?

  • 1
    I think you're mistaken when you say using "present perfect" is the correct choice in formal writing, in this context. The difference is primarily that Simple Past (omitting have) in something like He is/was the worst boss I [have] ever worked for implies you won't be working for any more bosses in the future. Whereas if you do include it, that Present Perfect form implies up until now (but you might feasibly still end up working for an even worse boss at some point in the future). Dec 28, 2017 at 18:11
  • You should use the present perfect. It sounds really bad to say "I ever saw" in the situation above; however, you are correct that, in informal speech and writing, it is sometimes used.
    – Nick
    Dec 28, 2017 at 18:25
  • As for your question about the difference between American and British English, I can't speak for the Brits, but, as an American, I would find it odd to hear "I ever saw" in the situation above. What's more common, at least in American English, is people's saying "I ever seen" and "I seen" when it should be "I have ever seen" and "I saw". For some strange reason, this occurs quite frequently. My grandfather says it like this often and I hear it on television a lot. It's obviously incorrect, but it is said somewhat often.
    – Nick
    Dec 28, 2017 at 21:32

1 Answer 1


There are two problems with your second sentence. First, there is a degree of finality to it that I'm not sure you want to express. Perhaps in 1988 I would have said:

Pele is the best football player I have ever seen.

but, having seen Christiano Ronaldo play, I might change that 30 years later:

Christiano Ronaldo is the best football player I have ever seen.

Both of those imply that I've been watching football, and that I'll likely continue to watch football, and maybe someday down the road, someone may even topple Ronaldo from my personal pedestal. However, a statement like this one:

Christiano Ronaldo is the best football player I ever saw.

sort of implies that I'm done watching football, and that I'll never watch it again. (Perhaps one day when I'm living in a nursing home and I've lost my vision, I might say something like that – but not right now.)

The other problem with your second sentence is the present-tense verb is. Assuming that I do eventually get admitted into that nursing home, legally blind, when I'm chatting with my grandchildren, I think I'd be more inclined to say:

Christiano Ronaldo was the best football player I ever saw.

(I suppose that the version with "is" could work, if, say, I happened to go blind just yesterday, and Ronaldo's playing career was not yet over. But as a standalone sentence, I think the version with "was" agrees better with the expression "have ever seen".)

  • 1
    I'm inclined to assert that "He was the best I ever saw" is mostly a common colloquialism (in certain dialects) meaning "He is the best I have ever seen", but avoiding that tricky perfect, but rarely used otherwise. After all, if you're still alive and seeing, it's still possible for you to see someone better.
    – Andrew
    Dec 28, 2017 at 18:43
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    @Andrew - Absolutely. When having casual conversations at the lunch table, etc., most people don't pay that much attention to the subtleties of language, and "gaffes" like this one go pretty much completely unnoticed.
    – J.R.
    Dec 28, 2017 at 18:56
  • I don't know. I notice these gaffes when they're said. That's a pretty big gaffe above. There are some gaffes with the present perfect and past simple that easily go unnoticed, but that one is a big one. I sometimes accidentally use the present perfect in writing because I'm talking in the general and then, at the end of the sentence, I switch to a specific time and I don't go back to change it to the simple past then. This is caused by my wanting to be more specific at the end, but I had started out in the general sense. C'est la vie.
    – Nick
    Dec 28, 2017 at 21:12
  • @Nick - I guess. It depends on the context: how it's said, how much background noise there is, etc. If I told a friend at the pub, "Ronaldo is the best player I've ever seen," and he answered, "Well, Pele is the best player I ever saw," I doubt I'd start correcting his grammar in real-time like Sheldon Cooper might do.
    – J.R.
    Dec 28, 2017 at 21:17
  • I wouldn't correct him either, but I'd notice it.
    – Nick
    Dec 28, 2017 at 21:17

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