Siempre supe/sabía

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by A huevo, Jan 5, 2013.

  1. A huevo Junior Member

    American English
    I am having trouble figuring out an explanation for the following use of the preterite tense:

    "Siempre supe que ibas a triunfar." This sentence makes send to me and I understand it, but can anyone explain to me more technically why I have to have "saber" in the preterite and why using the imperfect would be wrong?


    In other words, why is "Siempre sabía que ibas a triunfar" incorrect?


    Gracias.
     
  2. juan082937 Senior Member

    español
    Sabía is an imperfect past, it means that the action into past is going on, and with 'siempre' would be redundant because an action going on doesn´t need the adverb siempre= action going on
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
  3. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Belgium
    Dutch - Belgium
    This is a good question, but difficult to answer.

    First of all, I don't know what you have been told with regards to the difference between the imperfect and the simple past.

    One of the things that English speaking learners of Spanish are told is that "saber" in the simple past means "to learn" and in the imperfect it means "to know". If you were told that, forget it: it's nonsense.

    Another thing they may have told you is that if it is something that continues in the past for a more or less longer time, you need the imperfect. Once again, forget about that.

    Now, after all these negative signals:), there is also some good news. Your supposition is right: you need the simple past here and the imperfect would be strange (wrong). That is because "siempre" here is used as "always" (as opposed to "each and every time"). It is considered to indicate a closed past interval; a "closed past interval" is incompatible with the imperfect. I say "considered" because you might come up with a long list of arguments why it would not be a closed interval, but that's just the way it is. You just need to accept it.

    Having said that and as already mentioned before, "siempre" can also mean "each and every time". In that case, it can (and probably will) be followed by an imperfect.

    Hope this helps a bit.
     
  4. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    Here's my guess: You're saying this after "triunfar" has happened.
    The knowledge expressed by "saber" has as its contents "Va a triunfar" up until the time of the triumph; but afterwards, "va a triunfar" is no longer true; what's true now is "triunfó".
    So the act (or state) of knowing that "triunfar" was to happen in the future has come to an end: it is a completed action in the past.
    Its focused boundary in time is the moment when "triunfar" happened.
    The phrases I've put in boldface—"completed action in the past", and "focused boundary in time"—are earmarks of the preterit.

    If instead you said "I knew you were going to win, and so I bought you a greeting card to congratulate you"—
    then, at the time of "comprar", the action of "saber que va a triunfar" was still in progress; it was not yet brought to an end by the act of "triunfar";
    it was "imperfect" (not yet perfected);
    so you would say "Sabía que ibas a triunfar, y por eso te compré..."
     
  5. A huevo Junior Member

    American English
    Thank you, I like this explanation. But, what if we look at the sentence "Siempre supe que era la verdad." In this example "the truth" does not have a boundary in time. We can assume it was true before the person knew it, and it continued to be true after the person figured it out. How would you explain this when the boundary of time is less relevant?
     
  6. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Belgium
    Dutch - Belgium
    As I said, you might come up with a lot of arguments why you would consider "siempre" not to be closed, but it just is; you just have to accept it.

    EDIT: the same is true for "nunca" by the way.
     
  7. A huevo Junior Member

    American English
    Peterdg

    If you take away the word "siempre," I intuitively feel like I would have to use the imperfect.---> "Sabía que ibas a triunfar."
    Can you possibly try to explain to me why removing the word "siempre" no longer indicates a closed past interval?

    My misunderstanding with this is that in English the translations would be almost identical. "I always knew you were going to triumph." vs. I knew you were going to triumph." Why does the word "siempre" affect the interval(change it from a cyclic to a non-cyclic action)?

    I'm looking for a more technical answer to this. I do accept it, but that still doesn't help me understand the technical role that the word "siempre" has.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
  8. Gabriel Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina / Español
    Scenario:
    I am among the public in a competition in which my child is participating. My child wind and immediatelly after I say to the person next to me:
    "Ese es mi hijo. Yo sabía que iba a ganar", or
    "Ese es mi hijo. Siempre supe que iba a ganar"

    Don't ask me why, but I find any of those equally fit.
     
  9. RWimmer Junior Member

    United States
    English-United States
    There is another thread at:forum.wordreference.com/show thread.php?t=1771177 that also gives good examples of the use you are trying to understand.
     
  10. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Belgium
    Dutch - Belgium
    Just as a side remark: It's not changing it from a cyclic to a non cyclic action.

    It is very difficult to compare the Spanish tense use with the English one: but I can try to give an analogy with English.

    In English, you can say:

    "I hear that you have won the lottery"
    or
    "I (have) heared that you have won the lottery"

    But if you add "yesterday", you can say:
    "Yesterday I heared that you have won the lottery"
    but not:
    *"Yesterday I hear that you have won the lottery".

    The same thing happens with adding "siempre": it adds some information that triggers the choice for a certain tense (inexistent in English, but valid in Spanish).

    Without the "siempre", the choice of the tense depends on other factors (most of them, subjective); but both the simple past or the imperfect would be possible, depending on the context or on what the speaker had in mind.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
  11. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Belgium
    Dutch - Belgium
    This is the link RWimmer refers to.
     
  12. RicardoElAbogado Senior Member

    SF Bay Area, California
    American English
    The truth may not have a boundary in time but the knowledge of what is going to happen does. Remember the verb that is being used is "knew." In this particular situation, "I always knew" means that you knew beforehand that he was going to win. Once he won, that period of knowledge of what was going to happen ended and is followed by the period of knowledge of what actually happened. Because it refers to a action or state that was completed during a period in the past, you use the preterite.

    If you replace "he was going to win" with "it was the truth" I think it's the same situation. When you say I always knew it was the truth, you are really saying that you always believed it was the truth. If something occurs to validate that belief, the period of believing is over and is followed by the period of true knowledge.

    What if there is no validating event? The period of knowledge extends throughout the past, but the past is a completed period.

    What if you always knew it in the past and you still do? Aha, now you move out of the completed past and into the present perfect: I have always known ... (Siempre he creído ... ). And the preterite vs. imperfect becomes irrelevant when you refer to things that started in the past and continue into the present.

    That's my take on it anyway.
     
  13. James2000 Senior Member

    English - South Africa
  14. Gabriel Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina / Español
    I think that I understand your explanation perfectly. Now it doesn't explain why both of this options are possible:
    Siempre supe que ibas a ganar.
    Sabía que ibas a ganar.

    Both mean that I knew, beforehand, that you were going to win. In both cases the prediction realized (you did win already), so "that period of knowledge of what was going to happen ended and is followed by the period of knowledge of what actually happened" apply to both of them. But the "because it refers to a action or state that was completed during a period in the past, you use the preterite" part is only true for one of them. So the "because of this" (true for both cases) then that (false for one of the cases) logic is not working.
     
  15. RicardoElAbogado Senior Member

    SF Bay Area, California
    American English
    I'm the student of Spanish, and you're the native speaker. Aren't you supposed to explain it to me? :)

    But I'll give it a go. In the second example, you are giving your state of knowledge as background information about your child.

    How does that sound?
     
  16. Gabriel Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina / Español
    Maybe I'm so supposed, but I can't explain what I don't understand. Believe me I wish I could, because that would mean that I'd understand.

    I think that it's forced. The "que ibas a ganar" part is identically present in both sentences, in the same position, and with the same function (direct object). So I think that using it to explain the "supe" of the first sentence but ignoring it for the second sentence is arbitrary, to say the least.

    The only difference, other than the conjugation of the verb which is what we are questioning, is that the first sentence has an adverb of frequency (or is it of time?) and the second doesn't. How does that play (if it does), I don't know. Perhaps is just one of those arbitrary rules that "it's like this, period". Our Spanish language is full of these rules (to the dismay of you learners).
     
  17. A huevo Junior Member

    American English
    Thank you, Gabriel, as this is exactly the question that I have been tryint to answer. Exactly why does the word "siempre" change the sentence to the preterite. After thinking about it for a while, I think I have come to an understanding that at least makes sense to me. When you say "Siempre pensé que ibas a ganar," I feel that the speaker suggests that at some point the "thinking" process was affected by something, which would focus on the end of the action. I feel that this sentence suggests that the person did in fact win, so the end of that thinking process is viewed as ending at the point of winning.


    In the sentence "Yo pensaba que ibas a ganar," to me it seems less clear whether or not the person won. I think you could say that to the person whether he won or lost. So, since there is more ambiguity and we are not sure whether the person won without the word "siempre," maybe more emphasis is given to the thinking process itslef rather than the end of the thinking process, so we should use the imperfect.


    My explanation only makes sense if I am correctly interpreting these sentences. If a native speaker could help me- Is it true that "siempre pensé que ibas a ganar" more strongly suggest that the person did win, as opposed to the sentence without the word "siempre"?
     
  18. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Belgium
    Dutch - Belgium
    This makes me think of the official grammar of my native language (Algemene Nederlandse Spraakkunst) where they discuss the use in Dutch of what we could compare with the imperfect and the "prefecto compuesto" or the simple past in Spanish. They (professional grammarians) say there literally (well, translated from Dutch of course): "we do not exactly know what triggers the use of one tense or the other in all circumstances...".

    There are things that just are like that.
     
  19. Gabriel Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina / Español
    Al huevo (nice name!),

    Your attempt of an explanation has a major flaw: The second sentence is not "Yo pensaba que ibas a ganar", but "Yo sabía que ibas a ganar".
    I've said it already, but here it goes again:

    Imagine the scenario.
    Your son has just won a competition, and yo say to him:
    "¡Muy bien, hijo! Siempre supe que ibas a ganar.", or
    "¡Muy bien, hijo! Yo sabía que ibas a ganar".

    In both cases, your son won and there is no doubt whatsoever about this.

    As a (long) side note, "Yo pensaba que ibas a ganar" means that the person did NOT win, so there is no doubt here either. You never ever say that to a winner. Moreover, you typically don't say it to a looser either, especially not if you don't want to hurt them. It's a sentence that conveys disappointment. You'd typically say that to a third person. For example, you could say to a friend "Yo pensaba que Argentina iba a ganar el mundial".

    One sentence that is ambiguous is "Yo estaba seguro que iba a ganar". That one could be said after the person won or lost. While "estar seguro" seems to be similar than "saber", it is not. You can be sure of something and be wrong. However, yo cannot know something and be wrong, because if you are wrong, that thing that you thought you knew was false, and hence was not knowledge, then you didn't knew it. For example, you cannot say, you are sure that the Earth is flat and have no doubt whatsoever. At that stage, believing that that concept is true, you can say "I know that the Earth is flat". But once you learn it's not, you can no longer say "I knew that the Earth was flat", but you can say "I was sure that the Earth was flat".
     
  20. RicardoElAbogado Senior Member

    SF Bay Area, California
    American English
    So this falls into the category that every native speaker at one time or another has to say to a learner who wants to know why something is said a particular way: I don't know; it's just how we say it.

    Point of clarification: You can't properly say "Siempre sabía que ibas a ganar" can you?
     
  21. Gabriel Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina / Español
    Don't tell me that it doesn't happen in English too.

    Not in this context. I am not very creative now at 2:30 AM, but maybe if you are talking with your son about the old times when you used to go to see him in competitions, you might say:
    Every time that I went to see you, I knew that you would win. I always knew that you would win.
    Cada vez que iba a verte jugar, yo sabía que ibas a ganar. Yo siempre sabía que ibas a ganar.

    In this case, "siempre" means "each time, once and again", not "since a lot of time ago and until now without interruption" as in "Siempre supe que ibas a ganar".
    Unless your son won in all and each instance, the above would be a wired phrase due to the reasons explained in the previous post.

    However, there are multiple cases where "siempre sabía" would be ok:
    "Siempre sabía un montón para los exámenes"
    "Siempre sabía lo que mi esposa estaba pensando"
    "Siempre sabía la respuesta"
    "Siempre sabía cómo enfrentar una situación difícil"
    You get the idea. In all these cases, "siempre" means "in each instance" and not "since a lot of time ago and until now without interruption".
     
  22. RicardoElAbogado Senior Member

    SF Bay Area, California
    American English



    What I meant was native speakers in every language have this problem! And in every language, there's probably a way to say: "I don't know; it's just how we say it."
     
  23. _SantiWR_ Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Siempre + preterite always indicate a closed past interval, otherwise you would use the present perfect: "siempre he sabido la verdad" (which now means "til now"). On the other hand, you shouldn't assume that the use of the preterite means that what the verb says stopped being true, maybe it stopped being relevant or you just don't want to talk about what happened after that.
     
  24. Gabriel Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina / Español
    Not in Argentina. No one would say "siempre he sabido la verdad". In fact, the "pretérito perfecto compuesto" (present perfect) is nearly never used by 90% of the Argentina.
    Here, "yo siempre supe la verdad" can convey both meanings simply because, having abandoned the present perfect, we don't have other way to say it.

    Oh, and I took the liberty to make a small modification to what you've said, which was not wrong at all but I just like better as shown in red, because "hasta ahora" is smoetimes used with the sense of "hasta hace un segundo pero ya no": "Hasta ahora mi hijo siempre había ganado, pero esta vez le tocó perder"
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  25. RicardoElAbogado Senior Member

    SF Bay Area, California
    American English
    I had the same thought as you did. The present perfect is used, at least in English, with actions or states that began in the past and continue to the present, and 'til now implied that the action or state had just finished and did not continue into the present.
     
  26. _SantiWR_ Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Actually the Spanish "pretérito perfecto" doesn't have that present connotation as it does in English, so "siempre lo he sabido" by no means implies that you know it now.
     
  27. Manic2005 New Member

    English - England
    I'm struggling with the uses of the preterite and imperfect as well.

    After reading Cezontles response in this thread I think I might understand how it works a little more, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.


    In the same thread Gabriel wrote ...


    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Scenario:
    I am among the public in a competition in which my child is participating. My child wins and immediately after I say to the person next to me:
    "Ese es mi hijo. Yo sabía que iba a ganar", or
    "Ese es mi hijo. Siempre supe que iba a ganar"


    Don't ask me why, but I find any of those equally fit.


    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    From reading Cezontles comment earlier in the thread I think that the difference depends on which moment in time you are focusing on when you make your statement, so if I draw two timelines ...


    11:00 ----------------- 12:00 ------------ 13:00
    I knew -----------------My son wins
    that my son -----------the race
    was going to
    win the race


    'Ese es mi hijo. Yo sabía que iba a ganar', In this sentence I'm focusing on how I felt before the race.


    So I chose the Imperfect because I didn't stop thinking that my son was going to win before the race, the action was never completed.


    12:00 --------- 13:00 ------------ 14:00
    My son wins ---I always knew
    the race ------- that my son
    ------------------was going to
    ------------------win the race.


    'Ese es mi hijo. Siempre supe que iba a ganar', In this sentence I'm focusing on how I felt after the race.


    I chose the preterite because as soon as the race finished I knew ( Began to know ) that my son had won, the preterite is used to describe the beginning, end or completion of an action.


    Also if you imagine that in the first example, that 11:00 is actually the current time right now, you can't say 'I always know that my son is going to win this race', but in the second example if you imagine that 14:00 is the current time, you can say 'I always knew that my son was going to win this race'


    I maybe wrong but that theory seems to cover the use of the imperfect and the preterit and also it explains why you can't add 'Siempre' if you are focusing on a time before the race.


    Like I said at the start though please feel free correct me if I'm wrong, the majority of my other theories are normally full of holes lol
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2014
  28. _SantiWR_ Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Yo sabía que mi hijo iba a ganar = I kew that my son was going to win (in contrast to you, that didn't know it)
    Yo siempre supe mi hijo iba a ganar = I always knew that my son was going to win (in contrast to you, that only at times/at the end gave him some credit)
     
  29. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I have a very simple explanation. Feel free to poke holes in it... :D

    The preterite all by itself indicates a point in time in the past, while the imperfect indicates a more extended period of time in the past (hence "ongoing", or "habitual"). But the word "always" makes a big change. By adding "always" you are multiplying the "time points" indefinitely, so you end up with a phrase that means the same - exactly the same - as a plain imperfect. In short:

    always + preterite = imperfect

    Siempre supe = sabía
     

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