Two semantic interpretaions for 'I've ever seen'


The slim thighs I’ve ever seen. (1)
The slimmest thighs I’ve ever seen. (2)

Grammatically, the first highlighted part might be called relative clause modifying the previous noun phrase, and the second, complement for the previous phrase –– the latter explanation is seen in CGEL:"indirect complement, complement licensed by the comparative inflection (p.547)". What I want to know is what different meaning you get from the same appearance –– I’ve ever seen.


Posted 2013-10-19T04:45:42.527

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@snailboat, the first example I've changed from 'the slim thighs I've always imagined'(Water for Elephants). I have thought the first has the same meaning with 'the slim thighs I've always seen'. – Listenever – 2013-10-19T07:00:02.553

@snailboat, then can I present this - “Do you want to see the slim thighs I’ve ever seen?” instead of (1)? If it's possible, I want to change both (1) and (2) into interrogatives. – Listenever – 2013-10-19T07:11:05.817

Not thinking fast enough for an analytic explanation why, but I've ever seen always accompanies a superlative. The ever is indicating an extremum of some characteristic, so you need to be discussing some suitable extreme. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- – 2013-10-19T08:44:13.170



Ever is an interesting word. From its earliest appearances, about the year 1000, it bore two related senses:

  1. At all times, in all cases, on all occasions
  2. At any time, in any case, on any occasion

The all sense, however, began to wane after the 17th century. It continued in literary use into the early 20th century, and it survives in such combinations as evergreen, ever-changing, forever and ever. But that sense is no longer 'productive' of new combinations, except when a user wants to create an archaic or 'elevated' feel. (However, the sense does survive indirectly in every, an adjectival form which derives from an Old English form equivalent to ever each.)

Today only the any sense is used in ordinary discourse.

So a good test for acceptability of ever is to substitute the phrase at any time. This one is fine:

OKThose are the slimmest thighs I have seen at any time.

But this one doesn't make any sense:

Those are the slim thighs I have seen at any time.

It does work, however, in questions, negations and conditions:

OKHave you at any time noticed those slim thighs?
OKI have not at any time noticed those slim thighs.
OKIf I had at any time noticed those slim thighs I have forgotten them.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2013-10-19T04:45:42.527

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