When I was about 11 or 12 and learning Latin at school, my mum told me a rhyme she had for remembering the meaning of the word “semper”, meaning “always”: She’d say “Semper, semper, always keep your temper”.
It still works, most of the time, for the latin-derived word “sempre”. It usually means “always”, but there are exceptions. The first one you learn is “Sempre em frente”, meaning “straight ahead”, and there are a few other little expressions like “até sempre” and “para sempre” where it works with another word to mean something related but slightly different.
But even in normal usage, not part of an expression, it seems like the word order matters and it can change what it means depending where it comes in the sentence. I have made a couple of mistakes around this lately so I’ve been pointed to some examples. Here are a couple, shamelessly stolen from Reddit
O João sempre passou nos testes
O João passou sempre nos testes
In the first one, sempre goes before the verb, so it means “João ended up passing the tests”. Maybe he wasn’t expecting to pass but he managed to pull it off. Or maybe you weren’t sure but then you found out that, yes, yes he did.
In the second, sempre goes after the verb so it means what you expect it to mean – João was a smarty pants and every time he took a test he always passed it.
This seems to be a quirk of European Portuguese. In Brazil, it just means what you expect it to mean, regardless of the order, but in Europe, where you put it makes all the difference!
So, for us anglos, we need to resist the urge to put sempre where we would put it in our own language. “He
always passed always the test”
There’s a video about it here if you’d rather hear about this from the horse’s mouth.
4 thoughts on “The Sempei of Sempre”
That’s very helpful. I often get this wrong by putting ‘sempre’ before the verb, so your explanation clears this up .
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I must admit, I had no idea it was wrong until a couple of days ago! Always something new to find out, eh?