Sequence of Tenses

An Introduction

The sequence of Tenses is the rules that regulate the use of tenses. There are a few rules to remember to use these tenses correctly and meaningfully. While some may seem self-evident, others must be addressed. Today, in this article we are going to learn about the sequence of tenses, their rules, and some solved examples. So, let’s start by understanding the sequence of tenses in the coming section.

 

What Does the Sequence of Tenses Mean?

Tenses are verbs that describe the timing of an event, action, or condition. 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 practicing on the simulator for almost three years before she made it 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

The sequence of the tenses must be kept in mind. This is a rule that states that the tense of the verb in the subordinate clause, follows the tense of the verb in the main clause according to the rules below.

 

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 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

The Following Are the Other Rules That Also Need to Be Kept in Mind. 

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 learned from his failure that pride has a fall.

Rule 4

When the Subordinate Clause is introduced by a Conjunction of comparison, e.g. then, 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 

Then she liked him.

She will like you better

Then 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.

Rule 6

When phrases like as if, with that, what if, it is time are used, the sentences are always in the past tense.

  1. I wish I could eat another pizza.

  2. They stared at me as if I were crazy.

Important Note

Before attempting to write the answers to the question, it is recommended that you read the passage without trying to insert any words, to get a sense of the time involved. This applies to whether the time is in the present, past, or future. You’d occasionally come across a clue in the passage that would help you figure out the sentence’s tense.

For eg: 

  1. Rahul (play)__________________ here for a long time now.

  2. Shreya (spoke)_____________about this for a long time now.

You’ll notice that the word ‘now’ indicates that the timing is in the present tense in both statements, whereas the word ‘long time’ suggests that the timing is in the continuous tense. As a result, we can observe that the ‘playing’ and ‘speaking’ began earlier and is still going on now, as indicated by “now.” 

This indicates that the phrase is in the present perfect tense, and the correct verb form is “has been playing” or “has been speaking.” As a result, you should look out for cues that will help you sense the timing and write your answer in the correct tense. Quite often, there will be more than one correct answer, as long as the tension sequence is maintained.

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.

  8. His health________ (improve) since he left the city.

Answers

  1. was

  2. robbed

  3. Could

  4. was

  5. escaped

  6. might extend

  7. Cannot

  8. Has improved

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is the sequence of tenses?

The Sequence of Tenses is used to determine the order of events in a sentence. In English, there are three tenses: past, present and future. The sequence of tenses refers to the order in which these tenses appear.

2. Correct the following sentences:

 

  1. Riya will decide to drink bottled water after she tasted the tap water here.

  2. When Selena retired, she starts belly-dancing lessons.

  3. When Sharon was in college, she wins her first orchid contest.

  4. As it was a holiday, we do not receive mail yesterday.

  5. He was one of the few people who wants to keep working on the project.

  6. Nancy said that before coming home, she went to the supermarket.

  7. After Sally chose the kitten, she takes it home in a doll’s baby buggy.

  8. Selena never feels satisfied with what she does and wanted a better life for herself.

 

  1. Riya will decide to drink bottled water after she tastes the tap water here.

  2. When Selena retired, she started belly-dancing lessons.

  3. When Sharon was in college, she won her first orchid contest.

  4. As it was a holiday, we did not receive mail yesterday.

  5. He is one of the few people who want to keep working on the project.

  6. Nancy said that before coming home, she had gone to the supermarket.

  7. After Sally selected the kitten, she took it home in a doll’s baby buggy.

  8. Selena never feels satisfied with what she does and wants a better life for herself.

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