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This sentence from Proust:

Ou bien en dormant j’avais rejoint sans effort un âge à jamais révolu de ma vie primitive.

was translated by D.J. Enright as:

Or else while sleeping I had drifted back to an earlier stage in my life, now for ever outgrown

Since 'revolu' is defined in LaRousse as

Être écoulé, complètement achevé

An in Cambridge as

qui appartient au passé et n’existe plus | past | au moins dix-huit ans | at least eighteen

I would think the correct translation would be:

Or else while sleeping I had drifted back to an earlier stage in my life, never outgrown

I realize 'jamais' does sometime mean 'ever' but I don't understand how I am supposed to distinguish the two meanings. Suppose I wanted to express that I had never outgrown my childhood, how would I do it.

2 Answers 2

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  1. I realize 'jamais' does sometime mean 'ever' but I don't understand how I am supposed to distinguish the two meanings.

    There is no ambiguity in this sentence because jamais follows à which makes the set expression à jamais: pour toujours (forever):

    TLFi (emphasis mine)

    JAMAIS, adv. I. − [Jamais n'est pas en corrélation avec une particule négative] À un moment quelconque, à quelque moment que ce soit.
    [...]
    I. − [Dans un syntagme prépositionnel]

    1. À (tout) jamais. Dans tout le temps à venir sans qu'il y ait interruption ou fin. Synonyme pour toujours. La mort les a réunis à jamais. Je serai à vous à tout jamais (Académie 1878-1935). Les lois de Kepler ont à jamais détruit la simplicité de la doctrine astronomique des Anciens (Renouvier, Essais crit. gén., 3e essai, 1864, p. 89). Un matin d'octobre, mes diplômes celés à tout jamais au fond d'une malle, je pris le tablier bleu et le balai (Frapié, Maternelle, 1904, p. 6):
    2. Depuis, j'ai eu le temps d'assembler les cartes, les compas, et de fixer à tout jamais l'endroit où, pour la première fois, j'ai compris la beauté des yeux de Tanit-Zerga. Benoit, Atlant.,1919, p. 298.

 
2. Suppose I wanted to express that I had never outgrown my childhood, how would I do it?

Just use jamais:

Je n'ai jamais dépassé le stade de l'enfance.
Je ne suis jamais sorti de l'enfance.

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  • cool, thanks for the tip
    – bobsmith76
    Jan 10, 2023 at 21:34
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In your example, "à jamais" is an expression that means "forever", but it follows the generic rule so I'll also explain it.

It's a little tricky because what you should do in correct French and what is found in speech is quite different.

In literature, there should always be a negation (usually "ne") for jamais when it means "never" (never comes from "not ever" in English too). The only exception is when it's used as an answer.

Il n'est jamais venu. (He never came.)

Il est revenu, plus fort que jamais. (He came back, stronger than ever)

Jamais ! (Never!)

And in speech, we very often drop the ne, but jamais is almost never used to mean "ever".

Il vient jamais à l'entraînement. (He never comes to practice)

The only construction using it that is rather common is:

C'est le pire film que j'ai jamais vu. (It's the worst movie I've ever seen.)

Here there is no confusion because it's clear it can only mean "ever". In almost all other sentences in which English uses "ever", we use a different word in French, so it rarely causes a problem.

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