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"Sempre" Is Not Always "Always"

When we think of continuity, our Italian go-to word is sempre (always). It covers a lot of ground, as we’ll discover.


Per Elisa, paghi sempre tu e non ti lamenti

For Elisa you always pay, and you don't complain

Caption 9, Alice - Per Elisa

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But sempre also has some other interesting sfumature (nuances).


This next example is only slightly different from the above.

Ti amerò per sempre.
I’ll love you forever.


Keeping in mind that sempre also means “ever” is useful for understanding phrases like the following:


Ma che dici zia, sono sempre la stessa.

But what are you saying Auntie, I'm the same as ever.

Caption 16, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfetto

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This example could just as easily be translated using a different English adverb:

But what are you saying, Auntie? I’m still the same!


I’m the same as always!


In the following example, sempre as “still” is a bit more clear-cut:


Questa parola inizia con "Z", ma ha sempre lo stesso articolo.

This word starts with "Z," but it still has the same article.

Captions 30-31, Corso di italiano con Daniela - Articolo femminile singolare

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A common example of using sempre to mean “still” is when you call someone who’s late for an appointment and she tells you:

Non sono ancora partita. Sono sempre a casa!
I haven’t left yet. I’m still home!


Another common use of sempre is to reinforce another adverb, such as in the following example. In this case it's followed by più (more).


I tempi si fanno sempre più difficili.

The tenses get harder and harder.

Or: The tenses get more and more difficult.

Or, a bit more formally: The tenses get increasingly difficult.

Caption 26, Anna e Marika - Il verbo essere

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Lastly, and this is a bit tricky (because it takes the subjunctive mood), we have sempre che (“provided that” or “as long as”).


...e della frutta, come le mele, i limoni, le arance,

...and some fruit, such as apples, lemons, oranges,

sempre che, ci siano.

provided that there are some.

Captions 10-11, Come preparare con creatività - una tavola per la campagna

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In a nutshell:

Sempre is used to mean:

forever (preceded by per)
more (followed by più)
less (followed by meno)
provided that (followed by che)



Putting it all together (just for fun):

Arrivo sempre tardi al lavoro. Alle nove di mattina, invece di essere alla mia scrivania, di solito, ho sempre da timbrare il cartellino, o, peggio ancora, sono sempre al bar. E ultimamente è sempre peggio! Il mio posto di lavoro è sempre meno sicuro. Cercherò di essere sempre più puntuale, sempre che non mi licenzino prima.

always get to work late. At nine in the morning, instead of being at my desk, I usually still have to punch in, or even worse, I'm still at the coffee shop. And lately it’s gotten worse and worse. My job is less and less secure, so I’m going to try and be more and more punctual, provided they don’t fire me first.  


Visit WordReference to familiarize yourself even further with this common adverb.