English Sequence of Tenses
The Sequence of Tenses is a principle according to which the Tense of the Verb in the Dependent or Subordinate Clause follows the Tense of the Verb in the Principal Clause.
The following are the two main rules about the Sequence of Tenses.
Rule I. (a) If the Verb in the Principal Clause is in the Present or Future Tense, the Verb in the Subordinate Clause may be in any Tense (Present, Past or Future) according to the sense. But if there is some Purpose or Condition in Subordinate Clause, only Present Tense will be used in it.
He says (Present)
He will say (Future).
That he learns his lesson daily. (Present)
That he learnt his lesson daily. (Past)
That he will learn his lesson daily. (Future)
(b) If the Verb in the Principal Clause is in the Present or Future Tense, the Verb in the Subordinate Adverb Clause of Purpose must be in the Present Tense:
I work hard so that I may pass.
I shall work hard so that I may pass.
In a sentence, in conditional form, the Subordinate Clause generally takes a Verb in the Present Tense and not in the Future
1. You will catch (Future) the train, if (condition) you run (Present) fast.
2. I shall be (Future) very glad, if (condition) you come. (Present)
Rule II. If the Verb in the Principal Clause is in the Past Tense, the Verb in the Subordinate Clause must be in the corresponding Past Tense:
1. He told me
2. He asked him
3. She knew
4. He ran fast
5. I expected
6. He did not know
that his father was not at home.
if he had told a lie.
that he would not help her.
so that he might catch the train.
that you would come.
that his father had come.
(a) A Past Tense in the Principal clause is followed by a Present Indefinite Tense in the Subordinate Clause when there is a Universal Truth, Habitual fact. Geographical Truth etc.:
1. The old man said
2. The teacher said
3. He told me
4. She told him
that union is strength.
that the earth revolves round the sun.
that his father goes out for a walk daily.
that her brother is a gambler.
(b) A Past Tense in the Principal Clause may be followed by any Tense required by the sense when the Subordinate Clause is Adverb Clause of place, reason, or comparison:
1. We went to
2. She wanted to live
3. He did not accompany us
4. She loved me more
5. Last week he spent
where his father is employed. (Place)
where he lives. (Place)
because he cannot walk. (Reason)
than she loves or loved or will love you.
as much money as you will not spend in a month. (Comparison)
(c) A Past tense in the Principal Clause may be followed by any Tense required by the sense if the Subordinate Clause is an Adjective Clause:
1. I saw a man
2. The police caught a man
3. I bought a cow
who sells bicycles.
who steals mangoes.
which gives milk.
(d) The Conjunction ‘lest’ is always followed by should
1. He walks carefully
2. He worked hard
lest he should fall down.
lest he should fail in the examination.
(e) When the Subordinate Clause begins with 'as if or 'as though', the Verb in the Past Tense means the Present Tense
1. He talks as if he were mad.
In reality, this sentence is the short form of the sentence given below.
He talks as he would talk if he were mad.
He is not actually mad, however, he talks like a mad man.
2. She scolded me as if I were her servant.
Note: ‘As if’ or ‘as though’ are followed by ‘were’.
3. In the following sentences study the Verbs in Subordinate Clauses:
If you work hard, you will pass.
If you had worked hard, you would have passed.
If you worked hard, you would pass.
I wish that I were a king.