never met this syntax before...

I have met this syntax:
“How was the History exam?”
“Was it ever difficult!”

Can you explain what the answer means and the explanation?Is it just coloquial English?thanks in advance for your help

Hi and welcome,

‘Was it ever difficult’ is not known to me but maybe somebody will know it. All I can suggest is this: ‘As always it was difficult.’


Maybe it is AmE-- I certainly recognize it as a common casual exclamation:

That test was long. Am I ever tired!
My brother lost his wallet again. Is he ever stupid!

Not ‘as always’, in spite of the ‘ever’. ‘Ever’ is an intensifier, much as it is in ‘Why ever did I marry her?’ Without it, we have:

Am I tired!
Is he stupid!

Swan notes that ‘Americans and some British speakers’ [my emphasis] may use ordinary (non-negative) question forms in exclamations’-- the more usual negative question form for an exclamation being such as ‘Isn’t the weather nice!

So, you mean ‘ever’ has the meaning of ‘very’ in such cases?
Thanks, by the way which book of Swan are you referring to? I would like to know. I am teaching English as well, but in American Tests like ECPE I come across some structures I have never met before or cannot find explanations of them :?

Yes, ‘ever’ sort of means ‘very’, but it is a sentence intensfier. Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (Oxford Univ. Press) is an authoritative, realistic and easy-to-use grammar reference.

“was it ever difficult” is an informal phrase, and means (or at least when I use it): “It’s as difficult as it normally is”, although there are suggestions that it was even more difficult than that.

Hi glitterfairy

Is English your native language? If so, which version of English do you speak?

Mister Micawber’s explanation of “Was it ever difficult!” was a good description of what I would understand that exclamation to mean (in American English). It is a very commonly used sort of exclamation in my neck of the woods, and it always refers to some sort of extreme:

Man, was it ever cold last night!” (It was unbelievably cold last night.)

Whew! Was that ever a close call!” (e.g. This might be said when two cars have just avoided a collision by less than one tenth the diameter of a hair.) :shock:

Thank Yankee for your precious help! I have encountered this phrase in ECPE test which is American. I wil certainly ask more things in the future so I expect your help since you are an American native speaker! :smiley:


Having said that the ‘ever’ use was unknown to me, I now realise that at the back of my mind I had heard it many times in that wonderful film High Society. I quote the lyrics for the song by Cole Porter in the film. The word ‘ever’ is written as ‘evah’ as well as one or two alternative spellings in this quote:


Well, I never!

Thanks for the golden oldie, Alan.


so maybe I didn’t explain it very well… I certain am a native speaker, but I speak British English.

Hi glitterfairy

I was curious about whether your input was about the usage of the expression in England, the US, Canada, Australia, etc. Thus my question. :smiley: It’s interesting how some usages differ from place to place, isn’t it. So, what part of Britain do you hail from?

But did you ever!

Hi, Amy

I presume that Mister Micawber wanted to say “I never heard that poem” and your reply But did you ever can be construed as disbelief in what he stated, or did you merely agree with him ?

Thanks !

Wrong on my remark, Alex. We’re still playing with the ‘ever’ language point. ‘I never!’ is an AmE (I think) idiomatic interjection expressing amazement, akin to ‘I swan!’

I’ll let Amy take care of explaining her response.


Hi Alex
Yes, my ‘ever’ was just playing with MM’s ‘never’. And, of course, ‘Did you ever!’ was the expression used in the lyrics Alan posted.

‘Did you ever!’ is another example of an exclamation that uses ‘ever’ the way MM and I described. It can be used to affirm that something happened, emphasizing that it happened in a big way.
For example:

A: Did I make a mistake?
B: Did you ever! The boss is going to fire you for it!

A: It rained last week.
B: Did it ever! By Thursday people were boating down my street!

A: Did he win much money?
B: Did he ever! He hit the jackpot – a million dollars!

Look at the definitions of the word ‘ever’ here.

By the way, I’d never actually heard the expression “I swan” before, but it certainly was appropriate to the whole context of this thread. :lol:

Hi, Amy and MM!

What a nice clause to remember :slight_smile:
I actually heard of it once, particulary when I was reading The Tommyknockers by Stephen King, but then I thought it meant the opposite.