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dupond August 28, 2017 02:28 AM

Nunca/siempre and the preterite/imperfect
Could someone please explain to me whether "nunca" can take both the preterite and the imperfect? I've found other threads on the topic, but they are either unclear or contradict each other.

I've read that "nunca" refers to an unclear time period and therefore triggers use of the imperfect. I've also read that both the preterite and imperfect can be used, although I'm not sure how this changes the meaning.

Similarly, I've read that "siempre" refers to an unclear time period and should therefore take the imperfect, but I've also read that it can be used with the preterite.

Is there a clear answer on this? Or is it something about which there is some disagreement?


aleCcowaN August 28, 2017 04:36 AM

Could you provide examples of phrases doing that? I don't get what's your point.

Even a wrong translation would help.

dupond August 28, 2017 06:20 AM gives a list of words and phrases that are supposed to trigger the use of the imperfect.

I'd be inclined to believe them, but I've found more than one forum post saying that you can use both the preterite and imperfect.

For example:

Hola a todos! después de algún tiempo reaparezco :) y, como siempre, para pedir su ayuda!

Se trata del adverbio nunca. He estado leyendo y he encontrado que generalmente le sigue el indefinido pero no estoy segura de que sea así del todo. Por ejemplo, en las siguientes oraciones:

-Nunca tuvo dinero para pagar la renta.
-Nunca tenía dinero para pagar la renta.

En este caso, me suena que ambas podrían ser correctas. Pero hay otros casos en el que este intercambio no puede ser indistinto:

-Manuel nunca fue muy inteligente.
-Manuel nunca era muy inteligente.

En este caso, definitivamente el uso del indefinido es correcto seguido después de nunca. Entonces, quién puede explicarme? hay excepciones? en qué casos? o siempre debería usarse indefinido luego de nunca?

Agradeceré mucho sus respuestas y por favor, como saben que enseño español, me gustaría que sus opiniones estén basadas en libros de gramática que hayan leído o fuentes de información confiables, de veras se lo voy a agradecer si es así :)

The reply to which was:

Hola OreoChick:

-Nunca tuvo dinero para pagar la renta. (= Por ejemplo: Todos estos años / toda la vida no tuvo dinero para pagar la renta. La tuvo que pagar su padre)
= En ningún momento tuvo dinero para pagar la renta.
= Todo el tiempo no tuvo dinero para pagar la renta.
= Toda la vida no tuvo dinero para pagar la renta.
= Todos estos años no tuvo dinero para pagar la renta.

¿cuánto (tiempo)? El nunca aquí es el adverbio de duración y su contraponente es siempre (= todo el tiempo, en todo momento).

-Nunca tenía dinero para pagar la renta. (= Por ejemplo: Cada vez que venía el casero a cobrarle al inquilino la renta él no tenía dinero para pagársela)
= Ninguna vez tenía dinero para pagar la renta.
= En ninguna ocasión tenía dinero para pagar la renta.

¿cada cuánto (tiempo)? El nunca aquí es el adverbio de frecuencia y su contraponente es siempre (= cada vez, en cada ocasión).

Esto te lo digo según lo que he leído en libros de gramática,

-Manuel nunca fue muy inteligente. (= Toda la vida no lo fue, por ejemplo)
-Manuel nunca era muy inteligente. :cross:
(La intelegencia es una faculdad. No se la puede tener a veces, es decir, en una ocasión sí y en otra no. La intelegencia se la tiene o no)

y esto según lo que he concluido del leer dichos libros.

The example with Manuel made sense, but I didn't understand the difference between the examples involving rent.

The following is from a different forum

I have found conflicting "rules". Do siempre and/or nunca always go with either preterit or imperfect, or is it on a case-by-case basis?
To me, it seems like case-by-case.
He never called. (The action never occurred.) = Él nunca llamó.
He never had money. (The action of having occurred repeatedly, but the direct object - money - wasn't there. In other words, "He always had no money.") Él nunca tenía dinero.

Am I close or way off??

With the replies:

1. It depends on the phrase and on what you want to say... Siempre and nunca can go with any tense... Did I answer your question?

2. TransinterUCV is right,
El nunca/siempre llamó.
El nunca/siempre llamaba.
El nunca/siempre llamará.
El nunca/siempre llama.

Sorry about the long, messy post.

I guess my question is pretty much that of the second example. Would you use the preterite for a statement like "He never called," while "He never had money," would take the imperfect?

As for talking about the past with "siempre", it would make sense to me if you could only use the imperfect. The statement would be something like "He always used to call." I don't know how "siempre" would go with the preterite, since a completed single action doesn't seem compatible with the idea of something always happening or happening repeatedly over time.

aleCcowaN August 28, 2017 08:55 AM

Those triggers don't exist. They are just tricks to give the student time enough to apprehend the real inner working of the language (and trick in exams, as in the first courses they give some 70-80% of right answers without learning really anything).

Back to the examples, you have different use of the time frame and even different meaning of the words.

-Nunca tuvo dinero para pagar la renta ---> He never paid it [I would like to find a single real instance of this sentence in the Spanishphere]
-Nunca tenía dinero para pagar la renta.---> Such situation repeated month after month.

-Manuel nunca fue muy inteligente. ----> a comment made after Manny did something clumsy. [Here the speaker is underrating Manny]
-Manuel nunca era muy inteligente.----> Manny's choices were awful, and his lack of common sense made him take bad decisions once and again. [Here the speaker is underrating Manny's decisions, maybe just decisions about some specific subject]

ETA: I did the quiz. Considering the sentences to be part of a story, I only got a score of 20% -and I'm native Spanish speaker with an education in the first percentile-. Considering the sentences to be a story by themselves, I got 85%. If I knew the false triggers and just used them I think I would have gotten a score of 75%.

dupond August 28, 2017 08:45 PM

Thanks. I didn't even notice the quizzes on the side.

Does "siempre" with the preterite make any sense?

The way you explained "Nunca tuvo dinero para pagar la renta," makes sense. I'm imagining a scenario where one person asks, "Did your tenant pay the rent last month?" And the reply is "He never had the money [last month] to pay rent," even if this is odd phrasing. Would it be fair to say a more common reply would be "No tuvo dinero para pagar la renta"?

AngelicaDeAlquezar August 28, 2017 08:56 PM

Both "nunca" and "siempre" can take both conjugations.
For me, the difference is rather the idea of a repeated habit (imperfect) or a one time action (preterite); which is, sometimes, a notion mostly in the mind of the speaker. If the speaker situates him/herself in a repeated action in the past, then they'll use imperfect, but if there is some idea of a time definitely past and with some kind of "block" of homogeneous events in the past, then they'll use preterite.

- Nunca fui feliz cuando viví en Italia.
I was never happy when I lived in Italy.
- Cuando viví en Italia, nunca visité Milán.
When I lived in Italy, I never visited Milan.
- Cuando vivía en Italia, nunca salía de paseo.
When I lived in Italy, I never went out for a hike.
- Casi nunca tenía visitas cuando vivía en Italia.
I almost never had guests when I lived in Italy.

- El abuelo siempre nos regalaba juguetes.
Grandfather always gave us toys. (The speaker has in mind the habit to get toys from grandpa.)
- El abuelo siempre nos regaló juguetes.
Grandfather always gave us toys. (The speaker has in mind the time past when grandfather had toys to give.)

- Siempre era agradable ir a la playa.
It used to be nice going to the beach. (Habit in the past. There were certain conditions --that the listener may or may not know-- in which going to the beach was nice.)
- Siempre fue agradable ir a la playa.
It was always nice going to the beach. (Despite the "siempre", in the speaker mind, it's a time that has a specific start and end. It was nice in a moment and never again.)

Your last example "he never had money to pay (during the month)" is very well applied too. :)

dupond August 29, 2017 05:07 AM

Cheers. Thanks for the explanation. I get it now.

aleCcowaN August 29, 2017 12:04 PM

Can you describe exactly what you understood? (for the sake of future readers of this thread)

On the risk of not analysing it enough, I'd say nunca and siempre have no bearing on the choice regarding aspect (imperfect-perfect/general).

Regarding Angélica's examples, for instance:

El abuelo siempre nos regalaba juguetes (he did that on a regular basis/his gifts where always toys and never other stupid things as the clothes you've just gave us/he did that because some cause, like a guilty conscience/he used to give us gift much more frequently than other grandparents do/ e...t...c...e...t...e...r...a...)

El abuelo siempre nos regaló juguetes (it was kinda norm to him/he never forgot us and overlooked giving us something/etcetera)

AngelicaDeAlquezar August 29, 2017 12:11 PM

Sorry, Alec, but that's way too far. The subject's motivation is not necessarily involved in the speaker's sentences.
In both cases the grandfather gave his grandchildren toys on a regular basis, but the conjugation difference is only marked by how the speaker situates him/herself about that time past, not the reasons he had to do that.

aleCcowaN August 29, 2017 01:57 PM

Well, certainly that's not what happens with the Spanish spoken where I live or anywhere I visited, or anyone who visited me from any country. For both speaker's standpoints I'd use imperfect, not the slightest doubt, provided they're their own context.

Something repeatedly done in the past and something repeatedly done in the past is the same no matter you see it as a collection of instances or as a whole.

I have similar objections to all of your examples in post #6.

The key here -and what's elusive to English speakers- is whether the beginning or end of the action is important or not, and whether the completion of the action is relevant to the speech or not.

El abuelo nos regaló juguetes una vez.
El abuelo nos regaló juguetes tres veces.
El abuelo nos regaló juguetes muchas veces.
El abuelo siempre nos regaló juguetes en Navidad [Saying that "El abuelo siempre nos regaló juguetes" implies the same standpoint is sort of a stretch]
El abuelo siempre nos regaló juguetes (said by a 10 y.o.) = El abuelo nunca nos regaló/regalaba otra cosa que juguetes.

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