Usually, people say something like the sentence below.

(1) I have never heard such a strange phrase before.

Some of my non-native English speaking friends think it's okay to move "before" to the place between "never" and "heard" as shown in (2) below.

(2) I have never before heard such a strange phrase.

Is (2) wrong?


There is no rule against the word order in your second sentence. You of course can say

I have never before heard such a strange phrase.

We have never before seen aliens from another planet.

This word order makes the sentence sound a little old-fashioned and formal in register.


It's not grammatically incorrect, but it's not the default, so it should be used carefully. "Never heard it before" is the usual, 'relaxed' phrasing. We can move most adverbs around to different parts of the sentence to change emphasis, though, and this is a great example. Moving the adverb from a more natural position to a less natural (but still grammatical) position adds formality to the sentence. We can rearrange it further and add still more formality, while also placing maximum emphasis on the adverb phrase by moving it to the beginning:

Never before have I heard such a strange phrase.

This is a well-known phrasing belonging to a somewhat archaic lexicon. Phrases like this are very often used in a tongue-in-cheek manner to make light of a situation (though all types of formality can work this way, when used deliberately). This maxed-out case might even be so idiomatic that, for an actual formal situation, the moderate option above would be the better choice (not a rule, just a judgment heavily dependent on context).

One last grammatical note: When never comes before the subject, the subject and auxiliary verb switch places. This also happens with other adverbs of frequency, such as "rarely," that emphasize infrequency. (Never did I hear; rarely had she heard)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.