Maintaining the Sequence of Tense: Rules and Examples

The sequence of tense refers to the modification of the verb tense in a subordinate clause according to the tense of the main clause in a sentence. It ensures that there is a coherence of time between the two clauses. Here are the rules to maintain the sequence of tense:

Rule 1: Present Tense in Principal Clause

If the principal clause is in the present tense, the subordinate clause can be in the present continuous, present perfect, future, or past tense. Examples:

  • I know what you are thinking right now. (Present Continuous)
  • I think he has crossed the line. (Present Perfect)
  • She says that she will think about it. (Future Indefinite)
  • I hope you made the right choice. (Past Indefinite)

In this case, the tense of the subordinate clause depends on the relationship between the actions described in both clauses.

Rule 2: Past Tense in Principal Clause

If the principal clause is in the past tense, the subordinate clause can be in the past indefinite, past continuous, or past perfect tense. Examples:

  • He said he liked the idea. (Past Indefinite)
  • She visited our home while she was studying in London. (Past Continuous)
  • Melissa went there as her husband had told her. (Past Perfect)

The tense of the subordinate clause indicates the relationship of time between the actions described in both clauses.

Rule 3: Exception with "Than"

Usually, no present form is allowed in the subordinate clause if the principal clause is in the past tense. However, if the subordinate clause starts with "than," it can be in any tense. Examples:

  • I miss my dad more than I miss anything. (Present)
  • I miss my dad more than I missed anything. (Past)
  • I miss my dad more than I will miss anything. (Future)

The use of different tenses in the subordinate clause is acceptable when comparing two things using "than."

Rule 4: Future Tense in Principal Clause

If the principal clause is in the future tense, the subordinate clause is usually in the present tense. Examples:

  • I will go to play when the rain stops. (Correct)
  • He will text me when the teacher arrives. (Correct)

In this case, the subordinate clause remains in the present tense, indicating a future action.

Examples:

  • Incorrect: I went to the restaurant as I am hungry.
  • Incorrect: I went to the restaurant as I will be hungry.
  • Correct: I went to the restaurant as I was hungry.
  • Incorrect: He is arrested as he will be robbing the bank.
  • Incorrect: He is arrested as he is robbing a bank.
  • Correct: He is arrested as he had robbed a bank.
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