simplemente él me estaba esperando

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Grammar / Gramática Español-Inglés' started by Muri 22, Aug 11, 2011.

  1. Muri 22 Senior Member

    Hi everybody! I’m translating a novel about a young boy who narrates the most difficult stage of his life when he learns that his older brother has AIDS. At the beginning of the story the narrator talks about the relationship with his parents and best friend and he says like this: Se supone que a los amigos se los elige. A Mariano yo nunca supe si lo elegí o si cuando llegué al mundo simplemente él me estaba esperando.
    My attempt: Friends are supposedly chosen. I never knew whether I chose Mariano or whether when I came into the world he was just waiting for me.
    My doubt is regarding tenses, more specifically with the tense of the clause “When I came into the world he was just waiting for me”. Do you think is it correct and clear the use of “just” so as to say that when he came into the world his friend Mariano “ya lo estaba esperando”, meaning before he coming into the world? Thanks in advance! Any suggestions are welcome!
  2. mnewcomb71 Senior Member

    Detroit, MI
    USA - English
    I like it but wonder if it should not read "I never learned" and not "I never knew" because of the tense of the Spanish.
  3. UNIT144 Member

    English - UK
    Hola Muri 22,

    Yo diría, "when I came into the world he was already waiting for me."


  4. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    No, definitely not!
    It is a (very common) misconception among English speakers that the indefinite of "saber" means "to have learned" and the imperfect means "to have known" or "knew".

    It's a rule that has been taught to English speaking learners of Spanish to illustrate the difference between a punctual action in the past and an ongoing one.

    Unfortunately, it's wrong.

    "Saber" just can have two meanings: "to know" and "to learn", and it can be used with both meanings in both tenses.

    PS. A similar misunderstanding exists for the verb "querer".
    I would say: "he was just there waiting for me".

    The word "there" is not really a place indicator; it serves here to emphasize "just".

    Another option would be to say: "he was simply waiting for me" but in my opinion, the first choice makes it more expressive.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2011
  5. alebeau

    alebeau Senior Member

    New Orleans, La.
    United States - English
    Personally, I don't like "just" at all in this sentence. "Just", in this example, would devalue what its modifying.

    I wholeheartedly agree with UNIT144 in that the best translation would be:

    " . . . or if when I came into the world he was already (there)(,) waiting for me..."

    Please note that the word "there" and the comma are completely optional. I personally would use both as they really do give that touch of sentimentalism I think you're after.


  6. donbill

    donbill Senior Member / Moderator

    South Carolina / USA
    English - American
    I like the translation! You might use 'he was already waiting for me', but 'he was just waiting for me' sounds good too.

    Te felicito.

  7. mnewcomb71 Senior Member

    Detroit, MI
    USA - English
    Hi Peterdg...I do not believe that it is wrong especially since you agreed that it can mean to learn...the idea of "I learned" depends on the context in my opinion. I would also argue that "to know" in a definite and specific point in the past can mean "to find out or to learn". I believe that "I learned" can be completely appropriate in this context.

    In re-reading, I agree that "just" probably is not the best word to use..."simply" would be possibly more appropriate.
  8. Spug Senior Member

    So... can you give us an example in which saber in the imperfect tense (for example, sabía) would be translated as learned in English?
  9. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium
    That's not so easy. First of all, in Spanish, "saber" only has one meaning, to wit: "saber". It's only the English interpretation that can differ. Now, if I constructed a sentence with "sabía" and said that it has to be interpreted as "to learn", there is always the possibility that someone would say:
    1. I would interpret it as "to know"
    2. I would have used the indefinite in that case
    So, I needed to find something that is
    1. from a native
    2. that makes it impossible to interpret it as "to know" as opposed to "to learn"
    So, I went browsing a bit in the CREA and found the following:
    The fact that the perífrasis "ir a" is used makes it clear that "saber" here needs to be translated as "to learn" and that it's very unlikely to interpret it as "to know".

    If the theory that "to learn" is always expressed with the indefinite of "saber" were true, the sentence above should have read "... fueron a saber..."
  10. donbill

    donbill Senior Member / Moderator

    South Carolina / USA
    English - American
    This is tricky, Spug! And it's fascinating. I compiled a list of contextual examples of 'siempre quise', 'siempre tuve', and 'siempre supe'. Unfortunately I can't find it now! I found that Siempre supe, for example, almost always translates best as 'I always knew', in the sense of 'I never thought of anything else' or 'nothing else ever occurred to me'. Siempre quise ('I always wanted') works the same way, I think.

    If you were around for the Watergate hearings--the ones that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation from the presidency--you may remember a question that Senator Howard Baker asked repeatedly: "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" The two occurrences of 'know' are aspectually different: the first is imperfect and the second is perfect. The Senator could have said 'when did he learn it?' or when did he find it out?', but it wouldn't have sounded nearly so eloquent.

  11. mnewcomb71 Senior Member

    Detroit, MI
    USA - English does this relate to the question about Spanish?
  12. donbill

    donbill Senior Member / Moderator

    South Carolina / USA
    English - American
    Rather directly, it seems to me. We were questioning how the past tense of saber (supe or sabía) 'means' knew/learned/found out, etc., were we not? As Peter has implied in his posts, 'saber' means what it means in Spanish, and its meaning does not always lend itself to a neat English translation, especially in past tense.

    I've always thought the Watergate quote is a good illustration for English speakers that the pretérito simple (indefinido) of saber can be translated by knew/did know and that it isn't necessary to make lexical changes (learned, found out) to express the idea. What did the President know and when did he know it? = ¿Cuánto/Qué sabía el presidente y cuándo lo supo?

    I didn't think my post was unrelated. Perhaps it was.

  13. Peterdg

    Peterdg Senior Member

    Dutch - Belgium

    Sorry for reacting so late, but I missed your post:eek:. I didn't want to say "I learned" is by definition wrong here (although I personally find it unlikely here). I wanted to say that the reasoning to come to that decision (the tense usage) was wrong.
  14. bzu Senior Member

    Regarding the first sentence, "Friends are supposedly chosen" sounds awkward to me. I think I would use "They say friends are chosen" instead, which is a looser but more natural-sounding translation.
  15. donbill

    donbill Senior Member / Moderator

    South Carolina / USA
    English - American
    "They say friends are chosen": A very good way to express the idea!
  16. biocrite Senior Member

    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    English and Hindi
    Yo lo traduciría así: They say you choose your friends but I still haven't figured out if I picked Mariano as my friend or if he was just waiting for me even before I came into the world.

    Te recuerdo que las traducciones literales nunca son perfectas. Tu traducción está muy bien, pero para ilustrar que "ya lo estaba esperando" antes, yo usaría el "even before I came..." También tenés la palabra "simply" a tu disposición. "He was simply waiting for me." Para mí "just waiting" quiere decir que estaba esperando activamente y deseaba el arribo del narrador, mientras "simply waiting" suena un poco más pasivo, como si estaba esperando pero no se obsesionaba mucho con la idea.

    Faa, al final hay muchas opciones, pere depende en exactamente cuál es el sentido qué querés transmitir! :)

  17. Muri 22 Senior Member

    Thanks a lot of all of you for your interesting suggestions! They've have been very useful! :)
  18. k-in-sc

    k-in-sc Senior Member

    Se supone que a los amigos se los elige: Supposedly you choose your own friends.
    Passive voice in English tends to be weak-sounding. I suggest you avoid it if possible.

    I never knew whether I chose Mariano or whether when I came into the world he was just waiting for me. :tick:
  19. I agree. If I were to use "just" at all in the translation I would use just there as Peterdg suggests since that two-word phrasal to my ear suggests "simply, but in a pre-ordained predictive fashion, of course he was there to greet me...." whereas "he was just waiting for me" could mean "he was only doing the boring activing of waiting for me and that is a disapointment." :)

    INFOJACK Senior Member

    He was simply waiting for me.
  21. asm Senior Member

    New England, USA
    Mexico, Spanish
    It was not. Esto demuestra que sabías de lo que hablabas, lo supe cuando leí el comentario.:)

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