25

I saw this sentence:

Hard work never hurt anyone.

It's a good phrase, but I wonder why it is 'hurt' not 'hurts'? I think 'hurts' (3rd-person singular present) is more correct. Why is it 'hurt'?

65

In the idiom or proverb

Hard work never hurt anyone.

"hurt" is actually a past tense. It could be recast as

Hard work never did anyone harm.

It can be confusing that for regular English verbs, the simple past form is identical to one of the present tense forms (plural).

Much the same meaning could be expressed in the present tense, as

Hard work never hurts anyone.

But for whatever historical reason, this is not the form that became a standard fixed phrase.

  • 1
    The sentence describes (and negates) a hypothetical. Simple past is often used for expressing such meanings. If we were to affirm or deny a general truth or falsehood, we use present. I. E. "smoking kills". Using the past here tells us that it is not a fact, but opinion. – Stian Yttervik Sep 2 at 15:02
  • 2
    note that "to hurt" is not a regular verb! – vinnief Sep 3 at 10:04
  • 6
    To make your recasting clearer, how about hard work HAS never hurt anyone? – simonalexander2005 Sep 3 at 14:14
  • 1
    Instead of the example "Hard work never did anyone harm", it would be clearer to illustrate with "Hard work never harmed anyone" – Nayuki Sep 3 at 18:33
  • 2
    @stephen-r Used in this way it becomes conjecture, one isn't making a claim about now per se, one is saying that prior to now it was always so, and the unspoken claim is that it is still like that. This is conjecture. Hypothetical, because it is an hypothesis. So maybe 'opinion' is not the right way to put it, but certainly not fact. If it was fact, you'd use the present. In any case, that specific sentence is also idiomatic. – Stian Yttervik Sep 4 at 15:28
13

I agree with the accepted answer, but would add that using the past tense also adds playfulness.

Maybe you want to avoid hard work, but other people worked hard (past tense) and it didn't hurt them. So it shouldn't hurt you either, but I can't say this for sure.

If it did, you would be the first one in history who got hurt by hard work.

UPDATE:

Regarding the comments that you can in fact get hurt by hard work, it is not "hurt" in the literal sense, i.e. being hurt physically. It is "hurt" as in being disadvantaged. What is meant is that hard work will not disadvantage you, it will benefit you, so you should do it.

  • 4
    Past performance is not an indicator of future performance. haha – Aequitas Sep 4 at 1:23
  • 3
    I think history is rife with examples of persons harmed by hard work. – trognanders Sep 4 at 1:30
  • Nobody has been harmed by working hard (determinedly with persistence). Plenty of people have been hurt doing work that was hard (dangerous). The difficulty of work versus the hazards of particular tasks. You can work hard and be safety conscious, and accidents happen...but not typically because you're working hard, but because of some other factor (carelessness, exhaustion, fatigue - not just of people but of equipment, and others to include what once were called 'acts of God'...don't put up metal siding in a thunder storm). – wolfsshield Sep 4 at 13:01
  • Plenty of people have been harmed by working hard (determinedly with persistence). Modern western culture encourages many people to work long hours, often to the detriment of their family, emotional life, and physical wellbeing. There are many, many disadvantages to working hard in our society, and few benefits - very often those who work hardest and longest are paid the least. – Bob says reinstate Monica Sep 5 at 10:28
  • Yes, the idiom at hand is part of Western culture that encourages hard work. You have every right to disagree with it. – M3RS Sep 5 at 12:38
3

It's a reflection on what has happened (or not!) previously. It's a statement of 'fact' that has (theoretically) been proven in the past. So it's said as a past tense word.

We couldn't really say 'hurts' as the hard work would be happening now, while we speak. It makes more sense to speak about something that happened previously - many times!

  • 2
    I think you are being to definate. Provers or proverb-like stastements can be in the present tense. There isn't the degerwee of logic andf rule-bounded ness this answer implies – David Siegel Sep 2 at 21:53

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.