How to use “jamais”: The essential guide

Jamais usually means “never” in French, but when used a certain way, it can mean “ever” instead.

Let’s learn about how to use jamais, so that you’re never unsure of yourself when it comes to this common and useful French word!

The different ways to use jamais

Jamais usually means “never” in French, although sometimes it can mean “ever”, which we’ll see a little later on.

Jamais can be used on its own, or as as part of a negative pair, ne…jamais. The latter might be the way you’re most familiar with it.

Jamais as part of ne…jamais

View of Paris at twilight, with the Eiffel Tower lit up in warm, golden-looking light and truly towering over the surrounding buildings.
Vous n’êtes jamais venus à Paris avant ?

In your French studies, you may have learned the negative phrase ne…jamais, which means “never.”

As with other French negative word pairs (ne…pas, ne…plus, etc.), you usually place the ne before the conjugated verb and the jamais after it.

Here are some examples:

Il ne mange jamais après le dîner. (He never eats after dinner.)

Vous n’êtes jamais venus à Paris avant ? (You’ve never been to Paris before (now)?)

Je ne l’aurais jamais cru si je ne l’avez pas vu de mes propres yeux. (I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.)

As you can see, ne…jamais never changes, regardless of things like the verb tense, the gender and number of the subject, etc.

Changing the order of ne…jamais

But there is one way ne…jamais can change. Sometimes, jamais can come before ne. This is usually used for emphasis or to show an emotional reaction.

For instance, Je n’ai jamais vu une voiture comme ça (I’ve never seen a car like that) can be interpreted as a positive, negative, or neutral statement, depending on the context. But Jamais je n’ai vu une voiture comme ça would either mean that the person is impressed by the car or surprised by how it’s not so great.

Here’s another pair of sentences like this. Can you tell the subtle difference in meaning?:

Je ne bois jamais de Coca.

Jamais je ne bois de Coca.

Both sentences could be translated as: I never drink Coke. But we could interpret the first sentence, with ne…jamais, as being neutral – the person just doesn’t drink Coke. Depending on the context, it could also be said in a negative or positive way. The second statement (jamais…ne), however, shows us that the speaker has strong feelings about drinking Coke and would NEVER do it because they hate the taste, or think it’s unhealthy, or are making some kind of statement against globalization, etc.

In some cases, of course, the emotion and intention are probably the same whether you place jamais at the start of a sentence or not. For instance, Je ne t’oublierai jamais vs Jamais je ne t’oublierai  both mean “I’ll never forget you.” It’s an emotional phrase to begin with.

Often, when it comes to things like like love and friendship, the emotion behind it matters more than syntax.

Keep in mind that ne…jamais (or jamais…ne) is only used in a phrase or sentence. If you just want to say “Never” on its own, you’d just use Jamais. Like so….

Jamais as a standalone word

A set of three seats in a typical car of the Paris Metro, for certain lines. The seats are covered in rug-like material in bands of colors. Behind them is a window where the outside is a fast-moving blur. On one side of the wall of the train behind them is a small Metro map.
Ils ne prennent jamais le métro ? – Non, jamais.

Jamais can be used as a standalone word or accompanied by a short word or phrase, usually as a reply to a question.

For example:

Vous jouez aux jeux vidéo ? – Jamais. (“Do you play video games?” “Never.”)

Ils ne prennent jamais le métro ? – Non, jamais. (“They never take the Metro?” “No, never.”)

Jamais in a question

Now that you know how to use both ne…jamais and jamais on its own, you can use these to form all sorts of questions.

For instance:

Tu n’as jamais entendu l’histoire du Petit Chaperon Rouge ? (You’ve never heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood?)

Je ne regarde jamais la télé. – Ah bon ? Jamais ? (I never watch TV. Oh really? Never?)

Jamais as “ever”

Closeup of the arms, torso, and hands of a man in a plaid shirt. His hands hold open his wallet, which is empty.
Les prix sont plus élevés que jamais.

When does jamais mean “ever”, not “never”?

As a general rule, you can translate jamais as “ever”….

When it’s paired with que or si

The phrase si jamais translates to “if ever” in English.

Here are some examples:

Si jamais je gagne au loto, j’achèterai une Bugatti. (If I ever win the lottery, I’ll buy a Bugatti.)

Tu me diras si jamais tu as une idée de cadeau d’anniversaire pour ton père. (Let me know if you ever come up with an idea for your father’s birthday gift.)

Que jamais translates to “than ever”. You’ll often see it with plus;  plus que jamais translates to “more than ever”. For instance:

De nos jours, les gens sont confrontés plus que jamais aux effets du réchauffement climatique. (Nowadays, people are more than ever forced to deal with the effects of global warming.)

Plus que jamais, les Français s’intéressent aux climatiseurs. (More than ever, the French are interested in buying air conditioners.)

You can also add an adjective after plus to say “more __ than ever.” For example:

Il était là hier soir, plus beau que jamais. (He was there last night, more handsome than ever.)

Les prix sont plus élevés que jamais. (Prices are higher than ever.)

Without ne in a (long) question

We’ve already seen that ne…jamais can be used in question to mean “never”, and that Jamais on its own or with a few words can also be a question.  But if you use only jamais in a longer question, the word’s meaning changes from “never” to “ever”.

Let’s look at the example question that we used with ne…jamais: Tu n’as jamais entendu l’histoire du Petit Chaperon Rouge ? (You’ve never heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood?)

If I take out the ne (or n’, since the word comes before a vowel in this case), that would be: As- tu jamais entendu l’histoire du Petit Chaperon Rouge ? We would use inversion with this form of question because “jamais” used without “ne” is a bit more formal.

Now, the sentence means “Have you ever heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood”?

Here are some other examples of jamais as “ever” in questions:

Avez-vous jamais rêvé de créer votre propre entreprise ? (Have you ever dreamt of starting your own business?)

As-tu jamais regardé la série Buffy contre les vampires ? (Have you ever watched the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer?)

If you’re familiar with questions in French, you may have noticed that another word is often used in these kinds of questions: déjà.  

Either choice is correct, but déjà is the more common option to use in contemporary everyday spoken French. Some French people may even find using jamais this way a bit strange or feel as though it’s incorrect. So it’s probably best to be aware that jamais without ne in a question means “ever”, but use it sparingly, if at all.

If you want to see a few more turns of phrase with jamais as ever, I highly recommend WordReference’s “ever” entry.

One thing to watch out for: In informal French, especially informal spoken French, the ne in negative pairs like ne…jamais can sometimes be dropped. So just because you don’t see or hear the ne doesn’t automatically mean that jamais means “ever”.

Usually, the structure and/or context will make it fairly easy to determine the meaning of jamais. For instance, if someone says  Je ne sais pas comment il va, je le vois jamais, you can probably guess that they mean “I don’t know how he’s doing, I never see him,” not “I ever see him”.

Common expressions with jamais

A pod of orcas in the water. We can see part of the heads and blowholes of two of them, and we can only see the dorsal finds of the others.
Des orques qui s’organisent pour attaquer des bateaux ? C’est du jamais-vu !

Like “never” (or “ever”) in English, jamais is a very common word in French. This means it’s in a lot of different phrases and expressions.

Some of the most common phrases and expressions with jamais include:

  • à jamais/à tout jamais – forever. This is often used in a dramatic way, as opposed to the more common “forever” word, toujours. Also, it doesn’t mean a habitual action but rather something that will go on/last forever. Example: Nos destins sont lies à jamais. (Our destinies are intertwined forever.)
  • Je ne l’aurais jamais cru. – I would never have believed it/him/her.
  • plus jamais – never again. This can be used in a neutral way or a dramatic one. Ex: Je n’irai plus jamais aux Galeries Lafayette pendant les soldes – il y a trop de monde. (I’ll never go to Galeries Lafayette during the sales – there’s too many people.)/ Tu ne le reverras plus jamais ! (You’ll never see him again!)
  • jamais plus – Another way to say “never again”. But this one is a bit more insistant and also maybe a bit more formal or literary. Fun fact: In the French translation of Poe’s The Raven, “Nevermore” is Jamais plus.
  • Jamais de la vie – Never in my life/I would never! Ex: Tu nous a balancé ? – Jamais de la vie ! (“You told on us?” “I would never!”)
  • C’est le moment ou jamais. – It’s now or never.
  • On n’est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même. – If you want something done right, do it yourself. (Literally: One is never better served than by oneself.)
  • On ne sait jamais. – You never know.
  • sait-on jamais – “You never know”/“Who knows?”/We’ll never know”, depending on the context. Ex: Il pourrait – sait on jamais – devenir Président.(You never know, he could become President.)
  • presque jamais – almost never. Ex: Ils ne sortent presque jamais. (They almost never go out.)
  • C’est du jamais-vu. – This has never been seen before. Ex: Des orques qui s’organisent pour attaquer des bateaux ? C’est du jamais-vu ! (Orcas organizing attacks on boats? That’s never been seen before!)

You can find more phrases with jamais included in its WordReference entry. You can also find additional phrases with jamais, as well as examples, in its Wiktionnaire entry.

I hope this article on jamais was helpful, and that now, you’ll never doubt how to use this word again!

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.