I want to know if I used the word ever correctly in the following sentence. I wanted it to mean that the students waited tables at least once during their first semesters of studies.

By the way, if there is any mistake in this post, correct it, please.

Most university students have ever waited tables to earn some money during their firsts study semesters.

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    There are constructions like "I've only ever done it once before." But that's not the usage you're going for. Is that perhaps what you're confusing it with? – Catija May 13 '16 at 17:04
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    As a general rule, don't use ever in positive sentences! – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 13 '16 at 23:15

Like "any" and its compounds ("anybody", "anywhere" etc), "ever" is only used in that sense in negative polarity constructions:

  • Negatives:

    I haven't ever waited at table. (In this context it often merges with the "not", getting replaced by "never")

  • Questions:

    Have you ever waited at table?

  • With modifiers such as "only", "hardly", "few" (though these do not at first sight appear to be negative grammatically, they regularly select negative polarity items):

    I have only ever waited at table.

I have hardly ever waited at table.

Few of us have ever waited at table.

  • Unbounded conditonals:

    If you ever wait at table, ...

It is not used in positive affirmative sentences:

*I have ever waited at table. (the * means ungrammatical)

  • 1
    Might be worth noting (since the original version of the sentence is "waited tables") that I think your phrasing (waited at table) is BrE? While "waited tables" is AmE... As an AmE speaker, these versions sound a bit odd to me. – Catija May 13 '16 at 19:34
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    Yes, I seem to have inadvertently translated it into English ;-) – Colin Fine May 13 '16 at 21:06
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    That's fine but it may make the OP think that their current phrasing is incorrect... which it is not... In fact, if they used this version in the US, they'd get confused glances. – Catija May 13 '16 at 21:07

It's an odd usage of the word "ever", though I'm not sure if it breaks any grammar rules or not. The sentence would have your intended meaning if you removed "ever" and would be a natural phrasing for a native English speaker.

The verb tense in "have waited" already implies what I think you wanted "ever" to indicate, that the students waited tables at any point during the first semesters of study.

The only error I see is that "firsts" should be "first".


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