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What is the difference between these two phrases:

  1. something he never did before

  2. something he has never done before

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    One is in the past tense, and the other is in the present tense, with the perfect construction. There is no difference in meaning, and both are grammatical. But they would be used in different contexts, at different times. Sep 19, 2020 at 15:37
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    What would those different contexts be? Sep 19, 2020 at 15:40
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    (1) is suitable for a narrative where everything is reported in past tense, for instance That was something he never did before and never did again. (2) requires a narrative stance from the present, or at least the time the narrator has established as the present. When faced with something he has never done before, he usually stops to decide ways and means. Sep 19, 2020 at 15:54
  • The presence of the word never doesn't really affect the situation here. He did it before works fine in narrative contexts set in the past OR present, but He has done it before requires a narrative context centered on the present moment / time of utterance. The standard principle being that Present Perfect implies a past action that's somehow strongly connected connected to the present. Sep 19, 2020 at 16:11
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    @tchrist I think you could write "Now he does something that he has never done before." grammatically in a historical or narrative present sentence. Sep 19, 2020 at 17:39

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