1. The ridicule and scorn we expected never happened.

  2. The ridicule and scorn we never expected happened.

Can anybody explain if 1 and 2 mean the same thing? If not, what are the differences in meaning? And, always in this case, supposing that, for some reason, I have to express the 2 meaning, how can I rearrange the sentence for avoiding two -ed forms back to back?

  • 1
    I answered before you turned your question into two questions. Rather than edit, I'd like to point out that your second question doesn't make sense. I can't think of a reason to avoid two -ed forms back to back.
    – user230
    Mar 19, 2013 at 22:54
  • 1
    Not sure why 2 -ed endings back-to-back are a problem, but you could say "The ridicule and scorn that we never expected then happened." though it doesn't change the meaning and actually sounds a bit awkward. As you wrote it should be OK. Don't know if its a rule, but I always try to avoid using the same word (other than articles, pronouns and such) twice in a sentence.
    – user485
    Mar 20, 2013 at 1:17
  • 1
    @user3169 Repetition lends emphasis to a word (unless that word is common enough for it to go unnoticed). Sometimes this is desirable, but often it is not. The goal, then, is not to avoid repetition, but to avoid emphasizing a word when there's no reason to do so.
    – user230
    Mar 20, 2013 at 2:31

4 Answers 4


They mean opposite things.

Sentence 1 says that ridicule and scorn did not occur (never happened), although we expected it.

Sentence 2 says ridicule and scorn did occur (happened), even though we did not expect (never expected) it.

Never usually precedes a simple-tense or non-finite verb it modifies. In periphrastic constructions, it usually follows the first auxiliary.

I never shoot rabbits.
I will never shoot rabbits.
I have never shot rabbits.
Rabbits are never shot.
Rabbits have never been shot.

There's no reason to avoid two -ed forms back to back; but if you insist, you may write

Ridicule and scorn happened, though we never expected it. OR
We never expected it, but we were ridiculed and scorned. OR
Despite our expectations, which were quite the contrary, we were ridiculed and scorned. OR
We were subjected to ridicule and scorn, which we never expected. and many more.


Put simply:

  • In 1, the ridicule and scorn never happened, even though "we" expected it.

  • In 2, the ridicule and scorn happened, but "we" never expected it.

It might be helpful to bracket the two examples:

  1. [The ridicule and scorn we expected] [never happened].
  2. [The ridicule and scorn we never expected] [happened].

When we move the word never by just one position to the right, it jumps to a completely different part of the syntax tree, out of an embedded sentential clause, into the predicate.

First sentence:

syntax tree

Second sentence:

syntax tree

There isn't any need to rearrange the sentence to avoid the two verbs being put together. It is grammatical, and quite easy to understand. The English speaker knows simply from the juxtaposition (side by side arrangement) of two verbs that they must be in different clauses. Two verbs can be glued together only if one is an auxiliary (helping verb), for instance "did happen". Something like "expect happen" isn't grammatical. When an auxiliary verb is glued to a regular verb, only one of the verbs carries tense: "did happened" is not grammatical because both verbs have past tense.

If you want to make a minimal change so that the verbs are separated, one way is to apply a transformation known as topicalization. This is a possibility in many languages, including English, to take a unit of a sentence, and move it to the left. For instance, I didn't know that he played piano becomes That he played piano, I did not know.

Applying topicalization to our sentence, we can do it like this. But we have to introduce the verb they which functions as a syntactic expletive. It is a place holder for the grammatical subject which the sentence requires:

They happened, the ridicule and scorn we never expected.

It is clear that they refers to the ridicule and scorn.

In English we need a subject, which is why we say it is raining rather than just is raining. Also, we cannot just put the subject anywhere. The word order is SVO (subject, verb, object). If we just move verb out to the front, we are breaking SVO. So we must introduce some pronoun like they to serve as a subject.

Another minor way to break up the two verbs is to change happened to did happen. The ridicule and scorn we never expected did happen.

There are numerous other ways to achieve the same meaning, most of which very different sentences.


The ridicule and scorn we expected never happened.

means you expected ridicule and scorn, but the ridicule and scorn never happened.

The ridicule and scorn we never expected happened.

means you did not expect ridicule and scorn, but it did happen.

The difference is never modifying happened in 1., and never modifying expected in 2.

When speaking, if you pause after expected, it may be easier to understand the difference.

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