English language Uncategorized

Ever more or less

Q: Thanks for the lessons! And I’d like your opinion of the phrase “ever since,” which sounds redundant to me. My little Random House dictionary prefers “It has been raining since noon” to “It has been raining ever since noon.”

A: My big Random House dictionary doesn’t have anything to say against “ever since” and uses “ever since then” in an example. In that expression, the “ever” serves to add emphasis.

You may regard “ever since” as redundant (and sometimes it is), but it has its uses and is firmly entrenched in idiomatic English. The Oxford English Dictionary has citations for it dating back to the early 18th century: “The Coffee-houses have ever since been my chief Places of Resort” (Joseph Addison, 1714).

The grammarian Otto Jespersen, in Essentials of English Grammar, explains that “ever” is often used loosely in casual speech, as in “Who ever told you that’s a robin’s egg?” or “We saw ever so many bluebirds.” In some expressions, he adds, it corresponds roughly to “always,” as in “Ever since their marriage.”

There may be times, though, when “ever” is redundant. It certainly is in the phrases “rarely ever” (“rarely” or “rarely if ever” is better), and “seldom ever” (“seldom” or “seldom if ever” is preferred).

Many times, though, the uses of “ever” are idiomatic (“Did she ever!” or “I’m ever so sorry”). They don’t always make sense literally, but are used as intensifiers or for emphasis.

I think “ever” serves a purpose if it helps to clarify something. For instance, someone might say her roses “bloomed yesterday for the first time ever.” That would mean they had NEVER bloomed before. If she’d said they “bloomed yesterday for the first time,” it might mean for the first time this season.

The issue isn’t one of correctness or incorrectness, but of gracefulness of expression. Sometimes “ever” serves a purpose, sometimes not.

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