Better Call Saul #18
Context: Jimmy exited the interrogation room after discussing the Kettleman situation with Nacho. Nacho is the lead suspect in the case, and somebody Jimmy knows from previous interactions.
Kim: I asked you if you knew anything.
Spanish Translation: Te pregunté si sabías algo.
Our Issue: The Imperfect & Preterite
THE LOGIC OF THE IMPERFECT & PRETERITE
We use the imperfect and preterite tenses together to tell stories about the past. They happen at the same time, but don’t have the same duration.
The imperfect tense gives us background information, HOW THINGS WERE.
The preterite tense tells us the focus of the story, WHAT HAPPENED.
It’s important to remember that each tense represents the action of a verb. It’s an “imperfect action” and a “preterite action”. Each with their own duration.
This is an example of the imperfect and preterite tenses used together in the same SENTENCE. That’s cool! We don’t have to change the sentence to make it match reality (in that way, at least).
Kim said to Jimmy, “I ASKED you if you KNEW something.”
It’s pretty clear that “I asked” is WHAT HAPPENED, no? That’s the focus of Kim’s sentence, and why they used the preterite in Spanish, “pregunté” for “I asked” -- that’s the preterite action.
Then when Kim asked Jimmy if he KNEW something--she meant about the current situation. She wanted to know if he knew something about the Kettleman situation.
If it’s clear to you right away that that’s HOW THINGS WERE--Jimmy knowing or not knowing something--awesome. You got this!
I asked you if you knew ANYTHING (about the Kettleman's)
= I asked if you knew HOW THINGS WERE (with the Kettleman's)
But if you don’t see it yet, no worries. Let’s look at it another way. Let’s change things around so that the order of the verbs in the sentence matches the order of the verbs in reality:
Jimmy knew or didn’t know something about the Kettleman's (the imperfect action, how things were).
Then Kim asked him if he knew something (the preterite action, what happened).
That’s the order of events in reality, regardless of their order in the sentence.
Logic alone tells us Jimmy either knew or didn’t know something about the Kettleman's when Kim asked him if he did. That’s so DUH I feel weird saying it. But it’s important.
Here’s what the timeline looks like:
Notice the imperfect action (green line) continued even after the preterite action ended (red line). When Kim asked Jimmy if he knew something, that had zero effect on whether he knew something or not. Jimmy knowing or not knowing, continued even after Kim asked.
So in this sentence, the preterite action didn’t end the imperfect action. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t.
THE WHOLE THING:
Te pregunté si sabías algo.
= You I asked if you were knowing something.
= I asked you if you knew something.
= I asked you if you knew anything.
Any questions? About this issue or any others? Ask away!