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A friend posted the following on Facebook recently, possibly to get a rise out of people:

The future has never begun yet.

I have been trying to figure out why I keep rejecting the construction, but I can't put my finger on it. Part of my objection is logical, but I think there may be a grammar issue as well.

The sentence is talking about "the future," which is by definition all of that which has not happened but which will (with certainty) occur. The verb "has...begun" is in present perfect tense, which means the action started some time ago and either ended already or is continuing up to this point. These things by themselves are incompatible; once something occurs, it is no longer the future, but the past.

Including the adverb "never" fixes this by removing the incompatibility. To say "the future has never begun" makes sense as a tautology: anything that begins is not the future. If it has begun, then it's either the past or the present. That's the kind of sentence that makes people chuckle once they parse it.

But adding "yet" on the end changes things. In this position, "yet" indicates that something hasn't happened up to this point but either might or will happen later. But as noted above, this is impossible. It would be like saying "2 + 2 has never equaled 5 yet." Without the "yet," it makes sense. With the "yet," it sounds like you expect the laws of the universe change, and you're just biding your time.

I don't think the sentence breaks any grammatical rules, but it is at least illogical because of that final "yet." Is there some other rule about combining the adverbs "never" and "yet" with a present perfect verb tense? Or is it legal, just potentially confusing based on subject matter?

  • Who says language must be logical? if someone said "tomorrow has not begun yet", you might want to reply implying that this was an always true, and trivially obvious statement, and you could say [A time in] the future has never "begun yet". Your friend's remark sounds like a genre of "inspirational" slogans like "tomorrow is the start of the rest of your life", which state the obvious in order to provoke thought. – Michael Harvey Mar 24 '19 at 19:15
  • There is logic to grammar. That's why the sentence is not grammatical. Create other sentences using the same pattern, and that will become obvious. – Lambie Mar 25 '19 at 12:32
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It really depends on the context in which you are using the sentence.

Grammatically, I see nothing wrong with it. But that's not the same as saying it makes any sense.

My cat's fish will have flown a bicycle into my planetary artichokes.

The above sentence is grammatically fine. But it's nonsense.

You sentence means:

There has never yet been a moment when the future has begun.

I don't know if that makes any scientific or practical sense, but the grammar works.

Note ... I'm not sure I agree with Mixolydian about the use of 'never' and 'yet'. It seems to me that we use that construction all the time, although it seems to work better as "never yet".

Scotland has never yet won the Five Nations Grand Slam.

Scotland has never won the Five Nations Grand Slam yet.

It's a little bit of a tautology ... clearly something that has 'never' happened has not happened 'yet'. But such constructions are very common, and you'd really have to be mainlining pedantry to pick someone up on it.

So far, Scotland has never won the Five Nations Grand Slam.

Is 'So far' or 'yet' strictly necessary? No. But they are often used.

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  • We can use 'never yet' to jocularly express a truism e.g. 'hard work has never yet killed anyone'. – Michael Harvey Mar 24 '19 at 19:45
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    Good point, I agree that those uses of “never yet (verb)” and “never (verb) yet” are valid, so I should edit my answer. – Mixolydian Mar 24 '19 at 22:05
  • That is what I think the OP's friend was getting at - the future is always in front of us, so concentrate on the present. – Michael Harvey Mar 24 '19 at 22:53
  • @Lamdie. I was just trying to make the point that a sentence can be grammatical while still not making sense. The question in the title was "[is the sentence] grammatically correct?" – fred2 Mar 25 '19 at 14:01
  • @fred2 I understand that. Your sample is not good here because the OP's sentence is grammatically wrong. Therefore, they are not comparable. It's lack of sense is not semantic as with your nonsense example, it's grammar. – Lambie Mar 25 '19 at 14:37
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The usual or typical wording here would most likely be:

The future has not yet begun.

Just like: The movie has not yet begun. The play has not yet begun. By creating other sentences with the pattern, it's obvious.

yet limits the verb to the time of speaking.

If something has "not yet begun", it can't be paired with never. Only with "never yet" before the verb.

The future never begins when I want it to.
The future has not yet begun or begun yet.
The future has never been easy to face.

The play has never begun on time. The play has not begun yet or yet begun.

Can you say: The play has never begun yet? The story has never begun yet? No, those are not grammatical because they don't make sense.

You have to choose: The play has never begun on time. The play has not begun yet. The play has never yet begun on time. [adverb: until now]

If something is never, it can't simultaneously be yet with regard to the verb. Except in utterances where it is adjectival or pre-positioned adverbially:

A never-yet-seen scandal.

Or pre-positioned to the verb:

The future has never yet begun when we wish it had.

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I agree that “never” and “yet” don’t mix. “The future has not begun yet”- that makes grammatical sense, and maybe even logical sense. It is never the future in the present. Perhaps that is obvious or pretentious, depending on your point of view, but it doesn’t sound “off” grammatically. Even saying “The future has never begun” might make sense, if you’re trying to make a point about how you think society is stuck in the past and you don’t think things will ever move forward. But “never” has the implication that whatever it is hasn’t changed and won’t ever change, while “yet” contains an expectation that eventually things will change. So I agree that you cannot use these two words together.

EDIT: fred2 and Michael Harvey have made me realize I spoke incorrectly. “Never yet” works sometimes, and sounds more idiomatic when the verb comes afterwards. I think if it’s reworded to “The future has never yet begun” it still sounds awkward, though.

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  • But it does not make grammatical sense at all. "The x has never begun yet" is agrammatical. Never yet has he won a race. He has never yet won a race. Both those are fine. But not: He has never won yet a race. Creating other sentences makes that obvious....One can only tell this fact by creating other sentences with the same pattern... – Lambie Mar 25 '19 at 12:20
  • I agree it’s not grammatical, but maybe I couldn’t explain why very well. Maybe it’s because “begin” is a one-time action? That would explain why “never yet” seems to work with “begun on time” or “won”- things that can happen repeatedly. – Mixolydian Mar 25 '19 at 12:30
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    "never yet" together is up to this point in time: it's adverbial. "X has never begun yet" with never and yet around the verb is not. – Lambie Mar 25 '19 at 12:35

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