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Which one of the following two sentences is correct/proper?

My grandpa died 30 years ago. I have never met him.

or

My grandpa died 30 years ago. I never met him.

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Well, we only use "meet" for interacting with people who are alive. So if you never met your grandpa, you would say it like that: with never met.

The simple past (met) excludes present and future time. So, the simple past refers to an action that is completed in the past. When you say never met, it means in no time in the past did you meet him. You can say this whether you are 20 or 40, that is, whether you actually had the chance to meet him or not.

When you say have never met him, you are actually talking about your present situation. And the present perfect would imply that you still have the opportunity to meet him. But this is not true, since he died 30 years ago.

Now, for a bonus, let me throw in this. If, in the past, you did have a chance to meet him (that is, you were old enough to meet him when he was alive, but you did not meet him), then you can say

I had never met him.

The past perfect talks about a specific moment in the past. Here the specific moment is your grandpa's death. So,

He died 30 years ago. I had never met him (before he died).

  • To me, "I had never..." has the strong connotation of "I had never before..."; that is, I had never, but something changed. – mattdm Mar 14 '15 at 17:10
  • I agree. As a native English speaker, "I had never met him" sounds odd. Much more natural to say "I never met him". – Beska Mar 14 '15 at 19:26
  • @Beska: in New Zealand English, at least, "I had never met him." sounds perfectly natural. The two sentences have slightly different connotations; "I never met him" is a simple statement of fact, whereas "I had never met him" focuses on how you felt about that at the time of his death. – Harry Johnston Mar 14 '15 at 22:12
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    @mattdm: something did change; he died. ... actually, on second thoughts, I think this is how it goes: immediately after learning about his death, you might say "I never met him". Thirty years later, remembering that, you would say, "I had never met him." - because you're talking about the specific moment when you learned he had died, so you use past perfect tense. – Harry Johnston Mar 14 '15 at 22:13
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    @mattdm: that's one case in which you might use "had" but not the only one. For example, "I had learned to play piano" does not imply that you no longer can. – Harry Johnston Mar 14 '15 at 22:22

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