In a movie after a failed shoot-out, villain said:

That was the worst effing shoot-out I have ever seen in my life.

Is this grammatically OK? I have seen usage like

It is the best thing that has ever happened.

There is always present tense in first clause. I am confused about this combination of "was" with present perfect.

  • You can use either of something was / is the [best/worst] thing ever. In principle using is more explicitly states that it's still the best/worst thing at time of speaking, where was focuses more on how it was at the time. But in most contexts, nobody really thinks about it or cares much one way or the other which tense they should choose. Jan 9 '19 at 15:38
  • Yes, like FumbleFingers says, especially here because, "I have ever seen in my life" is a standard expression, "pre-arranged", that people use verbatim without thinking. We quote it without stopping to adjust the verb tense.
    – Lorel C.
    Jan 9 '19 at 15:46
  • @Lorel C: Actually, looking at it again, I think for OP's first example the dominant factor in tense choice hinges on us being more likely to say That was... or This is... (not so often that is or this was). Jan 9 '19 at 15:53

That was the best beer I've ever had.

The past tense there, together with that, which expresses remoteness, emphasizes that the action of my drinking it is over: I am not still drinking it. I drank the beer at some time in the past (a minute ago, ten years ago, we don't know).

If I were still drinking the beer:

This is the best beer I've ever had.

This expresses nearness, close presence, and of course is is present.

The present perfect with ever indicates the scope of the predication : "(my) inception-to-date".

was doesn't affect the scope of the predication:

That beer (I drank) = the best beer I've ever had


That was the worst effing shoot-out I have ever seen in my life.

The first thing to be aware of is that this is colloquial speech. I don't recognise the quote, but my guess would be some kind of gangster movie. Whether or not that is really how gangsters speak in real life I have no idea, but in movies, they tend to be portrayed as uneducated, street-wise people and the language they use does not stick to the rules of English grammar. It isn't the best example for a non-native English speaker to study.

You said that you don't understand why it uses the past tense "was", but you seem to understand that the shootout has ended because you described it as "failed". It doesn't matter if something ended 10 days ago or 10 seconds ago - it is in the past, and so that part of the sentence at least is correct. The speaker is commenting on the shoot-out he just witnessed, not on an ongoing shootout that is occurring in the present.

The only thing that I consider ungrammatical about the sentence is that "..I have ever seen in my life" is a tautology, that is making the same point twice. It would be better to say either:

That was the worst effing shoot-out I have ever seen.


That was the worst effing shoot-out I have seen in my life.

They both mean the same thing and saying both is unnecessary. This sort of thing is common though in colloquial speech because in all languages people tend to speak as they think, and spoken sentences are not always pre-planned out to the rules of grammar. Making a sentence unnecessarily lengthy must make it difficult for non-native speakers to break down into clauses and perhaps this contributes to your confusion in this instance.

  • 2
    I think it is more of an issue of redundancy than tautology. I would say that tautology requires something more like "The worst thing I've ever seen is the worst thing I've seen in my life." You have my upvote though.
    – Tashus
    Jan 9 '19 at 16:33

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