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Sequence of tenses -
The rules governing verb tenses are dictated by logic; an action in the future obviously cannot happen before an action in the past. In writing, it’s a matter of looking at your clauses and sentences, and determining when each action is happening. The past must come before the present, and the present before the future, etc. Pay particular attention to the verb sequence when you have a dependent clause before the independent clause, or a result clause before the if clause.
When the independent clause is in the past tense, the dependent clause may be written in the past or possibly the present (see Exceptions), but not the future.
The cat was bathing because his feet are dirty.
Because the tense of the independent clause is in the past (was bathing), the verb in the second clause (are) is in the wrong tense.
The cat was bathing because his feet were dirty.
The cat is bathing because his feet are dirty.
Exceptions: There are two exceptions to this rule:
for cases involving universal knowledge
Even the early doctors knew that the washing of hands prevents infection.
when using a modal which has no past tense form
Could you please help me move this bookshelf?
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the actual verbs have to be in chronological order, just the actions. We can put the dependent clause at the beginning of the sentence.
Athena will continue to learn English when she gets to the States.
It’s alright to have the future tense (will continue) before the present tense (gets) because the temporal conjunction when shows that the second action actually happens first.
Watch out for conditional clauses, too.
We’ll go for a walk if the weather held.
The future tense of the result clause is too distant from the past tense of the if clause.
We’ll go for a walk if the weather holds.
Let’s revise again –
The verb in the subordinate clause changes its tense in accordance with the
tense of the verb in the main clause. This principle chiefly applies to adverb clauses of purpose and noun clauses.
Here are the basic rules
1. A past tense in the principal clause is usually followed by a past tense in the
She said that she would come.
I realized that I had made a mistake.
I worked hard that I might succeed.
I found out that he was guilty.
There are a few exceptions to this rule.
A past tense in the principal clause may be followed by a present tense in
the subordinate clause when the subordinate clause expresses a universal
The teacher said that honesty is the best policy. (NOT The teacher said that honesty was the best policy.)
Galileo maintained that the earth moves around the sun.
When the subordinate clause is introduced by than, it may be in any tense
even if the verb in the main clause is in the past tense.
He loved me more than he loves his own children.
He loved me more than he loved his own children.
He loved me more than he will love his own children.
A present or future tense in the principal clause may be followed by any
tense in the subordinate clause.
He says that she was at the club.
He says that she is at the club.
He says that she will be at the club.
He will say that she was at the club.
He will say that she is at the club.
He will say that she will be at the club.
When the verb in the main clause is in the future tense, we often use a
present tense in the subordinate clause to refer to future time.
I will call you when he comes. (NOT I will call you when he will come.)
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Post time: Oct-23-2017