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I have heard the following sentence in a YouTube video:

Ich fand es schon immer schwer, mit Ärger umzugehen. (= I have always found it difficult to deal with anger)

I have also heard "schon immer" in several other contexts before, but I have never understood what "schon" means in this construct, as the literal translation ("already always") doesn't make any sense. Is it just a modal particle? Is there any difference in meaning between "schon immer" and "immer" ?

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"Schon" in this case is an adverb that signifies that something isn't a new thing (new development, new state, ...), but has been like this for a long time, or maybe forever. For further reference, see meaning 3a in this Duden entry.

As a phrase, "schon immer" means something like "always since the beginning". You could translate it as "forever", but "schon immer" is typically used more literal than the English "forever" ("I've been waiting forever!!").

Ich fand es schon immer schwer, mit Ärger umzugehen.

means, that the speaker found it difficult to deal with anger since forever or all his life. You might say, the "schon" shifts the "immer" a bit more to the past.

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  • Thanks for the answer! As "always did something" = "always did something since the beginning" = "did something since forever", it seems clear to me now that "schon" in "schon immer" does not add any new meaning to "immer", but rather adds emphasis. It's nice to know its usage is restricted to past events. Oct 24, 2020 at 22:01
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While "immer" means always, so principally from the beginnig of time to the end of time, it may refer to an implicitly shorter range of time, e.g.,

  • Ich trinke immer Kaffee zum Frühstück

cannot literally mean always: I won't have coffee for breakfast after my death, nor did I have it before birth (and not even while I was young), and I might not be able to have coffee under some adverse circumstances.

Adding "schon" adds yet another aspect: First, it restricts the claim to the past, i.e., theoretically to the range from the beginning of time until now (with the same caveats as with the coffee example). But it is nevertheless far from stating that the range ends now. Rather, it suggests that continuuation into the future is expected or even desired.

  • Das haben wir schon immer so gemacht (und sollten es deshalb in Zukunft weiterhin so machen)
  • Das haben wir bisher immer so gemacht (könnten aber in Zukinft anders handeln)
  • Herbert war schon immer ein Raufbold (und wird sich wohl auch weiterhin oft prügeln)
  • Herbert war bisher immer ein Raufbold (aber vielleicht kann er sich ja ab jetzt besser benehmen)

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