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I'm in a zoo, looking at a hippo. I say to my friends,

I've never seen a real hippo before. My long-standing wish's been finally satisfied.

Can I change the first sentence to

I never saw a real hippo before?

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  • 11
    Note that wish’s, while technically a valid contraction, is exceedingly unlikely to appear in actual usage (you may hear something very close, but the vowel in has will almost always still be present to some extent). English phonotactics is rather picky about when and how consonants can be next to each other, and doesn’t allow the sequence shs (with or without the apostrophe) unless there is a syllable boundary between the sh and the s (this is why plurals of nouns that normally end in sh end in shes). Jan 3 at 20:52
  • 5
    I agree that contracting "wish has" like this is non-idiomatic, but I don't think it's explained by phonotactics. A genitive like in "The wish's effect was to make a hippo visible." is pronounced, to my ear anyway, the same as the attempted contraction in the OP's sentence. Maybe the argument would be that it's really just the initial "h" being contracted, and "My long-standing wish 'as been finally satisfied" would be more accurately reflect pronunciation.
    – chepner
    Jan 3 at 21:33
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    Yes, you clearly can. There is no relevant difference in meaning. "I've never seen a real hippo before…" is a different part of speech from "I never saw a real hippo before…" but the semantic meaning is the same. For any "… wish's been…", see Austin Hemmelgarn, earlier. Jan 3 at 21:34
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    The second is unidiomatic in British English, but I believe it's common in American English.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 3 at 22:27
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    To my ear wishes and wish's (possessive, or contracted is) are both /wɪʃɪz/, but a rapid pronunciation of wish has is /wɪʃəz/, and I would not write it "wish's". I think some dialects use /ə/ in all of these, so they would not sound different.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 3 at 22:33

5 Answers 5

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You can use the past tense, but the present perfect would be the usual way to express the meaning in the first sentence, especially in British English.

There is a clear connection to the present (Right now I'm looking a hippo). This favours the present perfect.

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Yes, in that context, the two tenses mean the same. It shouldn't end with a question mark, of course.

The second sentence would be more likely as My long-standing wish has finally been satisfied. Note that the contraction wish's is unlikely. Also, the word order of finally been satisfied seems more likely than been finally satisfied.

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"I never saw" would typically be used when you could've seen the thing you're talking about for some period of time, but now it's no longer possible to see it. This might carry a bit of an implication of something like regret or surprise due to the use of "never". For example:

I never saw the world's largest hippo before it passed away last year.

I never saw Dumbo in the theater.

"I didn't see" is similar, except without the implication of regret or surprise. It could also be used for something that would be considered more of a single event (unlike "I never saw"). For example:

I didn't see Dumbo in the theater.

I didn't see the hippo that just ran past us.

I didn't see Dumbo on its opening night.

(It would sound strange to use "I never saw" for either of the last two.)

"I've never seen" would be used if it's still possible to see the thing you're talking about. For example:

I've never seen Dumbo.

I've never seen a real hippo before.

"I haven't seen" is similar, but without the emphasis on "never".

I haven't seen Dumbo.

I haven't seen a real hippo before.

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If you've only ever seen models or paintings of hippos, then it would be correct to say "I've never seen a real hippo before". However most people have seen real hippos on TV, or have seen photos of real hippos, so this would not generally be correct.

Instead, you would normally say

I've never seen a hippo in real life before.

You're probably familiar with the internet abbreviation IRL, for whether you're physically doing something or just doing something online. Same thing.

A slightly old-fashioned version would be

I've never seen a hippo in the flesh before.

because historically the best way of preserving an animal specimen for show was to skin it (removing the flesh).

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  • Are you arguing that the hippo on a painting cannot be real, but the hippo on a photograph is real?
    – Stef
    Jan 4 at 13:42
  • @Stef The question is whether the image is of a real hippo - that is, a direct image of an individual animal or animals. A photo is (barring CGI :) clearly a direct image of a real hippo. A painting is not clearly of a real hippo, as demonstrated by the many medieval paintings of tropical animals by artists who'd never seen the real thing, and even the best painting has an element of artistic interpretation which a photo doesn't. Fluffy hippo toys are also clearly not real hippos.
    – Graham
    Jan 4 at 14:01
  • To me the distinction between "a real hippo" and "a hippo in real life" seems very artificial. Also, I doubt "in the flesh" derives from taxidermy. But most importantly, this question is about tenses, not hippos....
    – Sanchises
    Jan 4 at 15:40
  • @Sanchises It's a real distinction. English-speaking children might say "Daddy, I've never seen a real hippo." Adults definitely make that distinction. And it's not at all about tenses, it's about the meaning of the word "real". The opposites of "real" are "artificial" or "imaginary". A photo of an actual animal is not an "artificial" or "imaginary" animal - but it is not there with you in real life. That's the difference. And it's very much about hippos, or whales, or anything else which genuinely exists and you've only previously seen photos of.
    – Graham
    Jan 4 at 19:12
2

"I never saw" is something that would more commonly be used in a scenario in which you are talking about something that was being discussed, for example: "Remember when we saw that movie..." - "I never saw that movie".

Though you could use it in the context that you've described, the more common phrasing would be "I've never seen a real hippo before".

This article is a short and easy description of "seen" vs. "saw" for your reference!

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