Never and Ever

Jamais - never and ever
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Jamais et … jamais

In English, there’s no risk of confusion between “never” and “ever,” which have opposing though not quite opposite meanings. In French, however, both terms can be translated by jamais, depending on what’s in the rest of the sentence.

Jamais = Never

The negative adverb ne … jamais means “never” or “not ever”:

Par exemple…

Je n’ai jamais grimpé dans un arbre.   I’ve never climbed a tree.
Il ne veut jamais sortir avec nous.   He never wants to go out with us.
Je n’y retournerai jamais.   I won’t ever go back there again.
Jamais nous n’aurions pensé qu’il puisse faire une telle chose.   We would never have thought he could do such a thing.

Jamais = Ever

Jamais on its own, without the negating particle ne,* means “ever.” It can only have this meaning in questions or after si:

As-tu jamais grimpé dans un arbre ?   Have you ever climbed a tree?
Saurons-nous jamais ce qui s’est passé ?   Will we ever know what happened?
Si jamais tu as besoin de quoi ce que soit …   If you ever need anything …
Je ne sais pas si j’ai jamais vu ce film.   I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this movie.

Note that when the verb is in the past, as in the last two examples, jamais can informally be replaced by déjà:

As-tu déjà grimpé un arbre ?   Have you ever climbed a tree?
Je ne sais pas si j’ai déjà vu ce film.   I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this movie.

*In informal French, ne is often dropped, but you can tell that jamais is negative by context:

Mon frangin [ne] fait jamais la vaisselle !   My brother never does the dishes!
Elle [n’]est jamais à l’heure.   She’s never on time.

Expressions with jamais

à jamais
   La mort les a réunis à jamais.
  forever, for good
   They are forever united in death.
à tout jamais, pour jamais
   Cette histoire est perdue à tout jamais / pour jamais.
  for evermore, for ever and ever
   That story is lost for ever and ever.
c’est le cas ou jamais
c’est le moment ou jamais
c’est maintenant ou jamais
  it’s now or never
comme jamais, que jamais
   Il est mignon comme jamais.
   C’est pire que jamais.
  than ever
   He’s cuter than ever.
   It’s worse than ever. 

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