Sequence of Tenses

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What Does the Sequence of Tenses Mean?

When a passage contains more than one verb in it, the relationship between the tenses of the verbs is known as the sequence of tenses. Different types of sequences are available. When all the verbs in a sentence show actions or states that occur at or generally about the same time, their tenses should be the same:

  • Whenever the alarm clock rings, I run, stretch, and roll over for another five minutes of last sleep. (all present tense).

  • She opened her arms to the audience, smiled, and bowed deeply. (all past tense).

On the other hand, a sentence may describe actions that occur at different times. It will then have verbs in different tenses:

  • Kim had been practising on the simulator for almost three years before she made to the actual car race. (past perfect and past).

  • Recently, the largest bank in the area lowered its interest rate on loans; the directors want to stimulate borrowing. (past and present).

Rules for Sequence of Tenses

There are two Major Rules:


Rule 1

If there is a use of  Past Tense in the Principal Clause, it must be followed by a Past Tense in the Subordinate Clause.


Examples:


Principal Clause

Subordinate Clause

I knew

That he wanted to say something.

Shrey succeeded 

Because he worked really hard.

I would do this

If I were permitted. 

The patient had escaped

Before the doctor came.


Rule 2

A Present or Future Tense in the Principal Clause might be followed by any tense required by the sense to convey in the Subordinate Clause.


Principal Clause

Subordinate Clause

I think

That the food is good.

You know

That she sings like a nightingale.

He will know

That she is beautiful.

He will think

That we did not invite him.


Some Other Rules


Rule 3

(Exception to Rule 1) : (Exception to Rule 1) : -  A Past Tense in the Principal Clause might be followed by a Present tense in the Subordinate Clause when the Subordinate clause expresses some daily habit of a universal fact in a sentence.


Examples:

  1. The teacher taught us that the sun rises from the east.

  2. The king said that all humans are mortal.

  3. He learnt from his failure that pride has a fall.

Rule 4

When the Subordinate Clause is introduced by a Conjunction of comparison, e.g. than, Rule 1 does not apply here as any tense can be followed by any tense.


Principal Clause

Subordinate Clause

She likes you better

Then she liked him.

She liked you better 

Than she liked him.

She will like you better

Than she has liked him.


If the comparison is displayed by ‘as well as’ instead of ‘then’, the same rule holds intact. Any tense may be followed by any tense, according to the context intended by the speaker.


Rule 5

If the Verb in the Principal Clause is used with the past tense, the Verb in the Subordinate Clause must be expressed by ' might'  (Past Tense).

  1. He worked hard that he might win the tournament.

  2. He was working hard that he might win the tournament.

  3. He had worked hard that he might win the tournament.

  4. He had been working hard that he might win the tournament.

Solved Example

  1. I found that my dog…………………… sick.

  2. The robber confessed that he …………………………. (rob) the bank.

  3. He was so shocked that he ……………………….. scarcely stand.

  4. He said that I …………………………… a good student.

  5. No one could understand how the prisoner ………………………….. (escape) from the prison.

  6. Italy declared war that she ……………………….. (extend) her empire.

  7. The essay is so difficult that I ……………………… not comprehend it.

Answers

  1. was

  2. robbed

  3. Could

  4. was

  5. escaped

  6. might extend

  7. Cannot