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The sequence of tenses





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§ 60.The rules of the sequence of tenses are one of the peculiarities of English. The sequence of tenses is a dependence of the tense form of the predicate in a subordinate clause on the tense form of the predicate in its principal clause. The rules mainly concern object clauses depending on principal clauses with the predicate verb in one of the past tenses, though it holds true also for some other subordinate clauses (such as subject, predicative and appositive ones).

The rules are as follows:

 

1) a present (or future) tense in the principal clause may be followed by any tense in the subordinate object clause:

1. I know   I say I am just saying I have always known I’ve just been telling her I shall tell her     (that) he plays tennis well. he is playing tennis in the park. he has played two games today. he has been playing tennis since morning.
  he played tennis yesterday. he was playing tennis when the storm began. he had played two games before the storm began. he had been playing tennis for some time when the storm began.
  he will play tennis in summer. he will be playing tennis all day long. he will have played some games before you return. he will have been playing tennis for some time before you come.

2) a past tense in the principal clause is followed by a past tense in the subordinate object clause.

 

I knew I said I was just saying I had never known She had been telling (that) he played tennis well. he was playing tennis in the park. he had played two games that day. he had been playing tennis since morning. he had played tennis the day before. he had been playing when the storm began. he had played two games before the storm. he had been playing tennis for some time before the storm. he would play tennis in summer. he would be playing tennis all day long. he would have played some games by the time you returned. he would have been playing tennis for more than an hour before you came.

 

Thus the past indefinite or the past continuous tense in the subordinate clause denotes an action, simultaneous with that of the pripcipal clause. They are translated into Russian by the present tense.

 

For a moment she did not know where she was.

Joanna noticed suddenly that I was not listening.

Had she not hinted what was troubling her?

He had thought it was his own son.

People had been saying he was a madman.

My first thought was where they were now.

 

The past perfect or the past perfect continuous in the subordinate clause denotes an action prior to that of the principal clause. Both of these forms are translated into Russian by the past tense.

 

I perceived that something had happened.

I wasn’t going to tell her that Megan had rung me up.

I knew well enough what she had been doing.

Up to that moment I had not realized what they had been trying to prove.

The fact was that his sister Rose had married beneath her.

She had a feeling that she had been deceived.

 

The future in the past tenses in the subordinate clause denote an action following that of the principal clause.

 

I hoped she would soon be better.

I told Caroline that I should be dining at Fernley.

What she would say or do did not bother him.

The fact remained that none of us would see them till late at night.

The sudden thought that Nell would not come at all flashed through his head.

 

The fact that the action of the subordinate clause follows that of the action in the principal clause may be also indicated by other means.

 

She said she was going to see him the same night.

 

§ 61. The rules of the sequence of tenses concern subordinate clauses dependent not only on the predicate of the principal clause but also on any part expressed by a verb or verbal:

 

I received from her a letter saying that she was passing through Paris and would like to have a chat with

me.

She smiled again, sure that I should come up.

She turned her head slightly, well aware that he was watching her.

 

In complex sentences containing more than two subordinate clauses the choice of the tense form for each of them depends on the tense form of the clause to which it is subordinated:

 

I guess you told him where they had come from and why they were hiding.

As far as I can see he did not realize that very soon all would be over.

 

Besides the complex sentences described above the rules of the se­quence of tenses are also found in all types of clauses and simple sentences reproducing inner speech (conventional direct speech).

 

§ 62. As already stated the rules of the sequence of tenses concern object, subject and predicative clauses. In all the other clauses (attributive and adverbial ones) the use of tenses depends wholly on the sense to be conveyed:

 

Clyde thought of all the young and thoughtless company of which he had been a part.

He lifted the heavy latch which held the large iron gate in place.

She only liked men who are good-looking.

I was thinking of the day which will come only too soon.

He was standing where the creek turns sharply to the east.

At the moment he was standing where he always had stood, on the rug before the living-room fire.

She felt gay as he had promised to take her to the pictures.

You see, I could not follow them as I’m rather shy.

Mr. Direck’s broken wrist healed sooner than he desired.

He knew the job better than I do.

She had been a wife for even less time than you have.

In my youth life was not the same as it is now.

 

§ 63. The rules of the sequence of tenses are not observed in the following cases:

 

1) when the subordinate clause describes the so-called general truth, or something which the speaker thinks to be one.

 

Up to then Roy never realized that our Solar system is but a tiny speck in the infinite Universe.

The other day I read in a book that everything alive consists mostly of water.

She was very young and - and ignorant of what life really is.

 

2) when the subordinate clause describes actions referring to the actual present, future, or past time, which usually occurs in dialogues or in newspaper, radio, or TV reports.

 

Margaret, I was saying to you - and I beg you to listen to me – that as far as I have known Mrs. Erlynne,

she has conducted herself well.

“Before the flier crashed,” the operator said ten minutes later, “he gave me information. He told me there

are still a few men alive in these mountains.”

I did not know he will be here tomorrow.

 

3) when the predicate verb of the subordinate clause is one of the modal verbs having no past tense forms.

 

She said I must come at once.

I thought you should come too.

 

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