In US English, 'never' and 'ever' are common with the past simple. This is less common in UK English. I never saw such a big fish before. We use 'ever' with questions.
Have you ever studied German? Has Lucy ever been to the theatre? Do you ever come to London? For negative questions, we can use 'not ever'. Doesn't he ever call his grandmother? We use 'ever' in negative sentences if we have 'not'. We use 'ever' with negative adverbs like 'hardly' or 'barely' or 'scarcely' and in sentences with 'nothing' or 'nobody' or 'no one'.
Nobody has ever bought my paintings before. Nothing ever turns out right! We hardly ever go to the cinema. She barely ever replies to my emails. We can use 'ever' with superlatives and adjectives like 'only' and 'first'. It was the first time that she'd ever been abroad.
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That is the best meal that we've ever had. It's the only thing that I've ever wanted. With comparatives, we can use 'than ever'. She was working harder than ever. My life is better than ever! We can use 'ever' after 'if'. If you ever want a job, let me know.
If she ever comes to London, she can stay with me. The problem is that grammar is a never ending story, or an endless quest for perfection as I like to call it. You'll never know all the grammar. There are always hidden exceptions, strange irregular verbs you might not have mastered yet and so on. When you see all this, it's depressing and really makes it feel like a language actually should take years to learn to get beyond just the basics.
You do not need grammar to speak a language. Academics can be cry babies all they like, but this is a fact. You can indeed get by with some phrases, and if you understand a decent amount of vocabulary, as well as being familiar with how they sound , you can get the gist of replies. The problem is of course, that you can't speak a language well without doing it correctly, so in the intermediate to upper level stages in your progress in a language, grammar starts to become much more important. But the thing is — natives don't tend to learn grammar of their own languages until much later in life if at all , and that's only really an issue in formal contexts like writing.
Both of these are the grammatical equivalent of burping loudly at a high class dinner party and would cost you dearly in exam situations. I've even had to unlearn grammar rules to make myself sound more authentic. What natives do is to just speak a lot and one way of saying it becomes really natural. It just sounds right.
Until I started teaching English , I didn't have a clue what a past participle was, and I didn't need to know. In languages that I have been practising for long enough, I can assure you that I am not stopping to think about having genders agree with one another, it just sounds right because of all the practice I've had. As well as this, it has no context in your mind.
Grammar acts as a wall between you and fluency — holding you back from the language rather than being a vital part of it. My good rule of thumb for many people is to start with phrasebooks , continue learning and constantly practising despite speaking badly , and when you are somewhat familiar with the language and how it sounds, then when you go look at grammar books, they are actually interesting! Seriously — you see the rule explained for something you've heard hundreds of times already and suddenly think to yourself so that's why they say it that way!!
When grammar has something to attach to, then it starts to really become a crucial part of a language. Because grammar explanations can make what otherwise seems completely random, and way too confusing, actually make sense , I should say despite the tone of this post that I'm not anti-grammar. I actually like grammar believe it or not!
I make grammar learning a crucial part of my work in improving my level in a given language. When I'm at a particular stage I really do like to break things up and analyse the precise grammatical reason for saying something one way, and make sure I understand it fully so I can apply it myself to a brand new sentence I just made up.
This way I can be confident that what I'm saying is right.
Although this is the first post about grammar in itself that I've written, I have indeed discussed grammar in the context of particular languages, to reframe it to make it seem easier in the cases of Czech , Hungarian and German. My goal is to make it interesting and make sure it seems logical and straightforward. My beef with the traditional academic approach is in how it drowns people in grammar from the start, and does it in such a way as to make it as inhuman and robotic as possible.
When the language is a means of communication in your mind already, then applying grammar to that could be a good idea and you may even like it! As I said at the start, there really isn't one solution to this grammar problem that will work for everyone. Although I hate to use these labels, since they tend to do more damage in imposing restrictions than anything else, let's go with the broad idea of imagining that you consider yourself either artistic or technical. If you are artistic , then the technical nature of grammar can be really tedious and hold you back from natural conversations.
It isn't Je suis and tu es because the French grammar book says so, but because you've simply heard it this way thousands of times. You could even learn the language to fluency without ever touching a grammar book, however if you sat an exam it would phrase questions so unnaturally that you'd be scratching your head. But very few of us actually sit such exams in the real world after college, so to be totally blunt who gives a shit if you can't explain why something is right if you know it's right anyway?
Maybe you simply have no real need to intensively learn the grammar. I certainly consider myself more of this technical mindset. In this case, some logical analysis and lateral thinking could help you tidy up the edges of what you've been speaking. I actually look at a language the same way I do at a Chemical or Mathematical equation, since I apply engineering concepts to languages.
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Leaving anything out creates an imbalance, which lingers on as an aftertaste as I say something if I made a mistake. Now I know what most of you might be thinking — performing these calculations as or just before you speak would be a monstrous task that would likely lead to your brain melting. I don't do this. Grammar for me is only useful in retrospect , as a correction tool to help me improve what I've got. The priority is always to say something.
So I will just say it wrong and then self-correct after I've said it nothing wrong with saying it twice and have time to analyse my words, but have done the more important thing of getting my meaning across to the other person. So for me, grammar comes in to fine tune what I've already got.
Most natives would instantly tell you what's wrong, but unless they are academics would be at a loss to tell you why. I learn the rules so I can make the absolute best out of natives' corrections, not so I can try to perform all of these complex calculations before speaking. Doing so could and DOES intimidate people to never even try in the first place. Now of course, I am not suggesting that everyone treats language learning and grammar in the same way I do as illustrated in the colours above. If you have a technical background though, it may be a helpful suggestion to you.
Then again maybe you love grammar anyway and are happy to learn it from the start. Or perhaps the thought of spending any time learning about cases and genders makes you want to run screaming for the hills. That's fine too — you just have to realise that you'd need more exposure to learn a rule that could make a hell of a lot of sense when explained the right way to you. In my opinion, for the quickest path to fluency you have to bite the bullet and study grammar, but only when you have something to apply it to.
But you will definitely find many successful language learners who never touched it although they would have needed way more exposure and hence time , for a particular phrasing to just sound right.