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Why "siempre supe..." and not "siempre sabía que había algo..."?

andy v.B1Kwiziq community member

Why "siempre supe..." and not "siempre sabía que había algo..."?

Asked 5 years ago
InmaKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hola Andy

Some verbs have a different meaning when they are used in the preterite and the imperfect tense. Saber is one of them. 

In this sentence from the "Julieta" reading exercise, this sentence: "Siempre supe que había algo importante en tu vida..." means "I always knew for sure/was certain/ was very aware that there was something important in your life..." Supe has an extra nuance to the more general meaning "saber" (to know).

Having said that, it is actually the word "siempre" in front of supe that brings that specific meaning. 

As a bit of extra information, saber in the preterite also means "found out", for example: 

"Aquel día supimos toda la verdad" (That day we found out the whole truth) 

Verb Querer (to want) is another one affected by this change in meaning. Here is a lesson about this in case you haven't come across it.

Un saludo cordial



Alan G.C1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

There is an interesting thread on WordReference discussing supe/sabia with siempre.


One user (from Argentina) gives this example:

Imagine the scenario. Your son has just won a competition, and you say to him:

"¡Muy bien, hijo! Siempre supe que ibas a ganar.", or

"¡Muy bien, hijo! Yo sabía que ibas a ganar".

The implication seems to be that "supe" is required because of the use of "siempre". Later on he suggests that "siempre sabia" would imply on multiple occasions, rather than once without interruption.

Would you agree with this, Inma?

Larry F.A2Kwiziq community member

None of this makes any sense. Siempre is supposed to trigger imperfect. No explanation given for why siempre is the triggering thing.

Alan G.C1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

I think the point is that always/siempre triggers the imperfect when it refers to a repeated activity, which is the most common case. For example "I always ate paella on Mondays" = "I always used to eat paella on Mondays", and "used to" is a standard trigger for the imperfect. But with saber we're talking about a single act of knowing, that continues over a period of time. If you were to say "I always used to know" that would imply a number of different occasions. In the example I gave, it would suggest that the boy competed in a number of competitions and on each occasion I knew he was going to win. If it were just a single occasion you wouldn't use "used to" in English, and so it makes sense to me that you wouldn't use the imperfect in Spanish.

Raymond T.A0Kwiziq community member


Janet D.A2Kwiziq community member

I do understand Alan’s explanation, it makes sense, but in that case the word siempre used before the verb has no effect on verb tense, since you can say “I always used to do this on Mondays” (repetitive action - imperfect) and also “I always knew you were clever (continuous act - preterite), so I do not understand why Imma gives “siempre” as a reason for preterite tense. 

Why "siempre supe..." and not "siempre sabía que había algo..."?

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