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Tenses for Beginners: A Study of The Basics

The Sequence of Tenses

The sequence of tenses refers to the set of rules in accordance with which the tense of verbs in related sentences or clauses is determined. It tells us when to use which tense in related sentences or clauses. Usually If two or more clauses combine to make one sentence, the tense of the verb of the dependent or subordinate clause is determined by the tense of the verb in the principal clause. However there are certain exceptions too. These rules are called together the sequence of tenses. Fortunately there are only a few rules to determine the tense of the verb. So it's easy to remember them. Let's look at the rules:



Rule I

If the verb in the Principal Clause is in the present or future tense, the verb in the Dependent Clause may be in any tense.

Example:

He says that he goes.
He says that he will go.
He says that he went.
He will say that he goes.
He will say that he will go.
He will say that he went.



Rule II

If the verb in the Principal Clause is in the past tense, the verb in the Dependent Clause should be in the corresponding past form.

Example:

He said that he went.
He said that he had gone.
He said that he would go.



Rule III

If the verb in the Principal Clause is in the past tense and the Dependent Clause expresses a universal truth or habitual action, the verb is not changed

Example:

He said that the Sun rises in the east.
He said that water flows downwards.
He said that he reads the Gita everyday.



Rule IV

If the Principal Clause is in the past tense and the Dependent Clause shows comparison, the verb in the Dependent Clause can be used in any tense
Example:

He loved you more than he loves me.
He loved you more than he loved me.
He loved you more than he will love me.



Rule V

If the Principal Clause is in the past tense and the Dependent Clause functions as an adjective, the verb in the Dependent Clause can be in any tense.

Example:

I saw the man who will do the work.
Father gave me a book which I am reading now.



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