How to Use "Jamais" in French

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Many people who have learned French know that it's a language with many tricky spellings. When writing in French, jamais is one word that can be easily confused with another. So, first things first: always watch your spelling with this one!

J'aimais, when spelled with the added " i," means "I loved," or I was loving/liking/enjoying and comes from the verb "aimer." Whereas the word being discussed here, jamais, means "never."

Jamais is confusing because it takes the place of the "pas" in a negation. But on top of this, it can also translate as "ever" or "never" in English, which are two quite different notions.

When does the French adverb jamais mean "ever," and when does it mean "never"? The short answer is that it depends on the context and construction of the sentence. 

Ne ... Jamais Means "Never"

In a negative construction, jamais means "never." For example, in the sentence:

Je ne ferais jamais ça.
"I would never do that."

Jamais is one of the few words that can replace the pas part of the negative in a negation sentence. Some of the others are aucun, personne and rien which are French negative pronouns. Jamais doesn't necessarily need to be placed directly after the verb. For emphasis, you can start your sentence with it as well as shown in the example below:

Jamais je n'ai vu quelque chose d'aussi beau.
"I have never seen anything as beautiful."

Note that in spoken modern French, the "ne" part of the negation often glides, or even totally disappears. So you need to train your ear to focus on the second part of the negation rather than relying on the first, the "ne."

Je n'ai jamais dit ça sounds like: "Jnay jamay di sa" or even "jay jamay di sa," but both pronunciations mean the same thing.

 

Jamais on Its Own Means "Ever"

When used by itself without a negative, jamais means "ever." We always use it in a question which is a very formal use of the word, or with si, in the expression "si jamais" meaning "if ever."

An example of the formal use of jamais in this context would be:

Es-tu jamais allé à Paris ?
"Have you ever been to Paris?" 
Today, it's more common to use déjà meaning "already."
Es-tu déjà allé à Paris ?

Si jamais tu vas à Paris, téléphone-moi.
"If you ever go to Paris, call me."

If modern spoken French frequently drops the ne, how do you know if it's "ever" or "never"? As mentioned earlier, you have to take into consideration the context of the sentence. 

Finally, jamais is part of many expressions, all having to do with "ever" and "never."

French Expressions with Jamais

  • Tu es plus belle que jamais mon amour. You are as beautiful as ever my love.
  • Maintenant, ils seront ensemble à jamais. Now, they will be together for ever.
  • Je l'aime à tout jamais. I love him forever and ever.
  • C'est maintenant ou jamais. It's now or never
  • Je n'ai jamais rien dit. I have never told anything.

When reviewing different types of French negative construction you will see there is more to negation than just ne and pas.