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The Rules of the Sequence of Tenses



§ 54. In certaintypes of subordinate clauses the tenses are

used relatively, i.e. the tense form does not refer the action to the

present, past or future but shows whether the action of the subor-

dinate clause is simultaneous with the action of the principal

clause, precedes it or follows it.

The choice of the tense form in the subordinate clause depends
ionthe tense form used in the principal clause. This structurally
dependent use of tenses in certain types of clauses is known as the
rules
of the sequence of tenses.

§ 55.The relative use of tenses is mainly observed in subordi-
nate object clauses.

 

l)After one of the past forms in the principal clause (includ-
ng the Future-in-the-Past) we find past forms in the subordinate
clause.

If the action of the object clause is simultaneouswith that of
the principal clause, the Past Indefinite or the Past Continuous is
used in the object clause no matter which past form is found in the
principal clause (the Past Indefinite, the Past Continuous, the Past
Perfect, the Past Perfect Continuous, or the Future-in-the-Past).

e.g. Nobody knewwhat he meant.
I thought
you were joking.
He had not realized
how nervous she was.
He wouldnever knowwhat she was thinking.

If the action of the object clause precedesthat of the principal
clause, the Past Perfect or the Past Perfect Continuous is used in
the object clause no matter which past form is found in the princi-
pal clause.

e.g. The people she met seemedto know where she had been,what

she had been doing.

He wasfinally tellingthem what he had been concealing.
Soames looked at her. He had saidthat she had not changed;
now he perceivedthat she had.

If the action of the object clause followsthat of the principal
clause, the Future-in-the-Past or one of the other means of ex-


pressing future actions viewed from the past is used in the object
clause no matter which past tense-aspect form is found in the
principal clause.

e.g. I had feared that my companion would talk too much, but it
was soon plain that there was no such danger.
I explained that I was going up to London.
He thought of how wet they were going to get in the rain.
She knew that George would be waiting for her.

2) The rules of the sequence of tenses are also observed in ob-
ject clauses if one of the present forms is used in the principal
clause.

If the action of the object clause is simultaneous with that of
the principal clause we find either the Present Indefinite or the
Present Continuous in it no matter which of the present forms is
used in the principal clause.

e.g. Maurice doesn't know what he is doing.
"I know just how they feel," said Sophia.
I am beginning to think you're a fool.
You've noticed, I daresay, that she travels a good deal.
"Adeline has been telling me," he said, "that her father is
willing to send her abroad."

If the action of the object clause precedes that of the principal
clause we' find the Present Perfect, the Past Indefinite, the
Present Perfect Continuous or the Past Continuous in it no matter
which of the present forms is used in the principal clause.

e.g. I don't know whether any of you have met her.
I don't see why he did it.
I don't want her to see I've been crying.

I'm beginning to understand why your grandfather left you
his house.

If the action of the object clause follows that of the principal
clause we find one of the future forms or one of the other means
of expressing futurity in it no matter which of the present forms
is used in the principal clause.

e.g. I don't think he'll ever forgive me for asking these people to
come here.


I expect she'll be ringing up again very shortly.
I don't know how I'm going to do it.

I've just told everyone that I'm sending him to school this au-
tumn.

She's hoping I shall be back by Monday week.
They haven't even told me who my successor is going to be.

3) The rules of the sequence of tenses are observed in object
clauses if one of the future forms or one of the means of express-
ing future actions is used in the principal clause.

If the action in the object clause is simultaneous with that of
the principal clause we find the Present Indefinite or the Present
Continuous in it.

e.g. I am sure we shall find we have quite a lot to say to one another.
Sir Walter will tell you that I'm not exaggerating.

If the action in the object clause precedes that of the principal
clause we find the Present Perfect or the Past Indefinite in it.

e.g. Miss Sophia will be glad you've come.

They will ask you when you arrived in New York.
I never liked the idea and I'm not going to say I did.
Oh, come, you're not going to tell me that you've never been
in love since you were in love with me.

If the action in the object clause follows that of the principal
clause we find one of the future forms or one of the other means
of expressing future actions in it.

e.g. I'll tell you what I'll do.

We'll let you know what we are going to do about it.

You are going to say that this will cost you a thousand pounds.

Note 1. Grammars usually say that the choice of the tense form in the subor-
dinate clause is free after a present or a future tense form in the principal clause.
This is not quite correct as only the above described forms can be used in this case,
their choice being as strict and as regular as after a past tense form in the princi-
pal clause.

It is true, the relative use of tense forms is not so obvious after a present
tense form in the principal clause since the situation is viewed from the moment of
speaking and at first sight the use of tense forms seems to depend only on the
sense. However, if we compare the use of tenses in object clauses after a present,
past and future tense form it becomes evident that their choice always depends on
the tense form of the predicate verb in the principal clause.


Besides, after a future tense in the principal clause it is a present tense form
that is used in the object clause to express simultaneousness, but not a future
tense form which might be logically expected (see the examples above). It might
also be expected that a present tense form would denote priority after a future
tense form in the principal clause but actually it is the Present Perfect or the Past
Indefinite that are used.

Note 2. The rules of the sequence of tenses are observed in all object clauses ir-
respective of the conjunction or the conjunctive word by which the clause is intro-
duced. The object clause may also be joined to the principal clause asyndetically
(see the examples above).

Note 3. It should be noted that the rules of the sequence of tenses hold good in
object clauses after a formal it used as the subject of the principal clause.

e.g. It pleasedme to think that he was makingprogress.
It appearsthat you knowmy name.
It wasremarkable that she seldom thoughtof Gerald.
It was announcedat the commencement of the congress that
a special mission would leaveto investigate the crisis.

§ 56. Object clauses are usually subordinated to the predicate
of the principal clause. But they may also be subordinated to
some other parts of the sentence, expressed by a verbal and occa-
sionally by an adjective. In this case the finite form of the subor-
dinate clause also depends on the form of the predicate verb in
the principal clause.

e.g. He wantedthem to see that he wasnot hostile.

Winslow wasfond of saying that he hada large collection of
pictures.

He finally wenthome, satisfied that he would haveno trou-
ble.

John had leftin April perfectly ignorant of what he wanted
to become.

§ 57. The rules of the sequence of tenses in object clauses are
sometimes violated. This occurs in the following cases:

1) In present-time contexts after a past form in the principal
clause when reference is made to the actual present time (a), the
actual past time (b) or the actual future time (c). This is found In
dialogues (in plays, novels, stories) and also in newspaper and ra-
dio reports.


e.g. a) I toldLewis that we're worriedabout Myrtle.

I was obligedto tell him that too much dependson our de-
cision.

Muriel saidshe's been ringingyou all day, Mother.
I wonder ifyou understooda word of what I have been
saying.

b) Ithink you saidyou camein a taxi.

"All night long I have been dreaming about this break-
fast." "I thoughtyou saidyou didn't sleep."

c) I cameto tell you that I'llvoteagainst you.

I readthe other day that they are going toraise the war

pensions.
"Didyou know,"she said, "that Roy is havingLord and

Lady Boscastle to lunch?"

In the above examples we may speak of the absolute use of fi-
nite forms as they actually refer the actions to the present, past or

future.

It should be pointed out that though there is a tendency in
present-day English to use the finite forms absolutely, the well-es-
tablished tradition of their relative use is still holding ground.
There are numerous examples of the same kind as those given
above in which the rules of the sequence of tenses are strictly ob-
served. Moreover, sometimes the formal dependence of the finite
form of the object clause on that of the principal clause appears
even illogical, contradicting the actual state of things, and yet
the tradition does not give way.

e.g. "I cameto see how your health was," he said to Miss Marple.
You are not angry with me because I quite forgotit wasmy

birthday today.
I hear you are going to be married again; I thoughtyou were

tired of that game.
I didn't know I wasso strong.

2) After a past form in the principal clause when the speaker
believes that he is dealing with facts, statements or opinions which
are true of all times, are a kind of general truth. In this case the
Present Indefinite is used in the object clause after a past form in
the principal clause. Examples of this kind are not very numerous.


e.g. You made me understand what love really is.

They were so young that they did not know what an advan-
tage it is to be in society.

Soames was realizing more and more than ever how essential
reputation is to a solicitor.

3) With certain modal verbs having only one form, e.g. must,
should, ought
and need.

e.g. I wrote that I must see him.

He said he was sure that there must be some mistake.
I didn't think you need worry.

I knew that from now on he should do no more work.
Two people advised me recently, almost in the same words,
that I ought to see a doctor.

§ 58. As has been said, the rules of the sequence of tenses are
mainly applied in object clauses. Yet these rules are strictly ob-
served in some other cases too:

a) in subject and predicative clauses,

e.g. How she managed to do it is not known.
This is not what I expected.
That he has behaved as a coward is a fact.
After all, it's what we've been hoping all along, isn't it?
Why they had voted against him was a mystery.
My first impression was that they all behaved very well.
That he would soon ask for help was almost a certainty.
My only fear was that Finn would forget what he was sup-
posed to be doing.

b) in appositive clauses,

e.g. The author expresses the confidence that readers of the paper

will support the candidate.

She had the sensation that someone hidden among the trees
was watching her as she passed.

c) in clauses of purpose (in which we mainly find the modal
verbs can and may),

e.g. I want to move to London so that I can really begin a new life.


As you go, leave the door open so that the light may show

you some of the way down.
The doctor stepped around so that she could see him, and

nodded.
He exclaimed loudly and clearly, so that all might hear.

d) in simple sentences as well as in all types of clauses in so-
called inner speech (a stylistic device which consists in the author
describing the thoughts of his characters as if they were speaking
to themselves),

e.g. The house wasn't too bad, he reflected to himself. It was
good, solidly built, though rather ugly. It would be quite
comfortable to live in.

It was quite true, thought Lady Seal. Neville had spoken.
surprisingly well that morning, as though at last he were
fully alive to his responsibilities. She would ask him to
luncheon. But perhaps he would be busy; many people
were busy in those days.

e) in simple sentences in which a parenthetic sentence is in-
serted (the tense form of the simple sentence depends on that of
the parenthetic one),

e.g. The house had, he admitted, a feeling of solidity and security.
The idea wasn't too bad, he reflected to himself.
It was all being done very well, Mrs Bantry thought.

§59. In all the other clauses, i.e. other than object, subject,
predicative, appositive clauses and clauses of purpose, the use of
the finite forms is structurally independent, i.e. the finite form is
chosen in accordance with the sense to be conveyed.

Yet in narration in the vast majority of attributive clauses as
well as clauses of time, cause, result, comparison, condition or
concession we find past forms. In fact, this seems to be the gener-
al rule. But the reason why it is used is not its structural depen-
dence on the finite form in the principal clause. Since all the
events in narration refer to the past, it is only natural that one of
the past forms should be used in these types of clauses.

e-g. I was in the garden one morning with Brenda when a car
drew up to the front door.


But no one knewhow the Greeks were holding on, because

the supplies were gettingscarce.
A tall tired-looking man, whom he had not metbefore, came

out and without a word led him into the office.
It was one of the happiest afternoons he hadever spent.
She wasas glad to end the conversation as he was.
Harris was so overcome with joy that he fainted.

But when necessary, it is possible to use any tense form re-
quired by the situation in such clauses.

e.g. Georgie, who is now twenty-six, had beenan undergraduate

at Cambridge, where she had takena degree of economics.
We were standingin the part of the market that is devoted to

flowers.
"It was many years ago," said Miss Marple, "but nevertheless

human nature was very much the same as it is now."
He was as fond of his father as I amof mine.
I had knownPalmer, when this story starts, fornearly four

years.
I hadnever seen him before and I hadnever heardanything

about him at the time, though I have hearda good deal since.

§ 60. The rules of the sequence of tenses are also observed in
clauses of the second, third, etc. grade of subordination. Yet the
choice of the finite form does not depend in this case on the finite
form in the principal clause — it is determined by the form of the
verb in the clause to which it is subordinated.

e.g. He hurriedher away, grumbling to himself | (1) that he had
known | (2)
how it would be.

Inthe above example, clause 1 is subordinated to the principal
clause and the Past Perfect is used to express the priority of the
action to that of the principal clause; clause 2, however, is subor-
dinated to clause 1 and the Future-in-the-Past serves to show an
action following that of clause 1.

In the following example the Past Indefinite in clause 1 shows
that the action is simultaneous with that of the principal clause;
the Past Perfect in clause 2 expresses the priority of the action to
that in clause 1.


e.g. I discovered | (1) that he thought | (2) nothing specially
unusual had happened.

The same rule is illustrated in the following examples:

e.g. Awkwardly, with kindness, he asked me about my studies. He
said that Ann had toldhim how Iwas working.

But I was delayed and when I arrived the landlady toldme
that the girl had saidshe was not usedto being kept wait-
ing and hadgone.

She was always so sure that at last she had foundexactly
what she wanted.

I thoughtyou saidthat you were tryingto get a job.

I thought I knewwhy they hadcome.

VOICE

§ 61. Voice is the form of the verb which serves to show
whether the subject of the sentence is the agent or the object of
the action expressed by the predicate verb. There are two voices
in English — the Active Voiceand the Passive Voice.

Note. The terms the Active Voice and the Passive Voice are used with reference
to the form of the verb. Sentences in which the verb is used in the Active or in the
Passive Voice are called active and passive constructions respectively.

The Active Voice

§ 62. The Active Voiceshows that the person or thing denoted
by the subject of the sentence is the agent (the doer) of the action
expressed by the predicate verb, that it acts.

e.g. "I denythat," saidJoan.

We knowyou've been cheating us.

Why haveyou done it?

George walkedover to the window but did not openit.

The formation of the finite forms of the Active Voice and the
use of these forms have already been described in "Verbs", § 7-60.

Note. In a vast majority of instances the Active Voice has the meaning de-
scribed above. Yet there are cases when, owing to the lexical character of the verb,


the thing denoted by the subject of the sentence cannot be regarded as the doer of
the action. This becomes obvious if we compare the following examples:

a) The maid who opened the door for b) The door opened and Mrs Knight
me told me that Mr March was appeared with a tea tray,

waiting for me.

She closed the door softly and went The door closed and there was

straight to the telephone. silence in the large room.

In the examples under (a) the subject of the sentence is the doer of the action
but in the sentences under (b) it becomes the object — the door cannot actually
open or close by itself, the action is performed by someone else. Yet examples of
the second kind are also treated in grammar as the Active Voice since the form of
the verb is active.

The Passive Voice

§ 63. The Passive Voiceserves to show that the person or
thing denoted by the subject of the sentence is not the agent (the
doer) of the action expressed by the predicate verb but the object
of this action. The subject of a passive verb does not act but is act-
ed upon, it undergoes an action.

e.g. She was wokenfrom her sleep by his singing.

They were receivedwith great frankness and charm.
The child knew that she was being praised.
The
news will be announcedafter dinner.

Note. There are a few cases when, owing to the lexical character of the verb,
the subject of the sentence cannot be regarded as the object undergoing the action
expressed by the predicate verb. Yet examples of this kind are treated in grammar
as the Passive Voice since the form of the verb is passive.

e.g. All of a sudden I realized that I was lost in the wild open country.
After Jacobs was drowned his farm was sold to MacMartin.

§ 64. The Passive Voice is an analytical form which is built up
by means of the auxiliary verb to be in the required finite form
and the participle of the notional verb (on the formation of the
participle see "Verbs", § 5 and Appendix):

the Present Indefinite — is (am, are) done
the Past Indefinite — was (were) done
the Future
Indefinite — will (shall) be done
the Present Perfect — has (have) been done
the Past Perfect — had been done


 

the Future Perfect — will (shall) have been done
the Present Continuous — is(am, are) being done
the Past Continuous — was (were) being done
The interrogative form is built up by placing the (first) auxilia-
ry verb before the subject of the sentence (e.g. When was it done?
Has the work been done?,
etc.). The negative form is built up by
placing the particle notafter the (first) auxiliary (e.g. The work
was not done yesterday. The work will not be done tomorrow,
etc.).

Note. The Passive Voice may also be formed by means of the auxiliary verb to
get and the participle of the notional verb. But instances of this kind are infre-
quent {even in informal English) and restricted mainly to situations and contexts
dealing with accidental or unpleasant happenings.

e.g. The boy got hurt on his way home.

The table was turned over sideways and the china lamp got broken.
Somebody pushed Jane's elbow and her drink got spilt.
Don't make such a noise. You'll get turned out.




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