Sequence of Tenses



Sequence of Tenses :



When two clauses are joined together by some Subordinating Conjunction or by some Relative (or Interrogative) Pronoun or Adverb, one of them is called the Principal and the other the Dependent Clause.

I will let you know when I shall start.

Principal Clause : I will let you know
Dependent Clause : when I shall start

There are two main rules about the Sequence of Tenses and all special rules centre round these two.

Rule : I - If there is a Past Tense in the Principal clause, it must be followed by a Past Tense in the Dependent clause.

Principal Clause (Past Tense)…..Dependent Clause (Past Tense)

1. It was settled…..that I should do this.
2. He would come…..if you wished it.
3. He was honest…..although he was poor.
4. He asked me…..whether I had seen his dog.
5. He was informed…..that I had been looking for him.
6. We never understood…..how or why he did that.
7. He did not leave off…..till he had succeeded.
8. I was inquiring…..what you had heard.
9. He succeeded…..because he worked hard.
10. He remained silent…..as soon as he heard that.
11. I would do this…..if I were allowed.
12. He walked so far…..that he tired himself.

Rule : II - If there is a Present or Future Tense in the Principal clause, it can be followed by any tense whatever in the Dependent clause.

Principal Clause : Present or Future (any one form of the following 4 sentences)

1. that he reads a book
2. that he is reading
3. that he has read
4. that he has been reading

Dependent Clause : Any tense whatever….The four forms of the Present tense.

Principal Clause : I know or I shall know (any one form of the following 4 sentences)

1. that he will read
2. that he will be reading
3. that he will have read
4. that he will have been reading

Dependent Clause : The four forms of the Future tense

Principal Clause : I know or I shall know (any one form of the following 4 sentences)

1. that he read
2. that he was reading
3. that he had read
4. that he had been reading

Dependent Clause : The four forms of the Past tense

Exception to Rule - I

There is one exception to Rule : I. The Past Tense in the Principal clause can be followed by a Present Simple in the Dependent clause to express some universal or habitual fact.

Principal Clause (Past Tense)….Dependent Clause (Present Tense)

1. They learnt at school….that honesty is the best policy.
2. The students were taught….that the earth moves round the sun.
3. His illness showed him….that all men are mortal.
4. He was glad to hear….that his brother is prospering.
5. They were sorry to hear….that he has a bad temper.

Conjunctions of Purpose

When the Dependent clause is introduced by a Conjunction of purpose, the following two rules must be observed.

(a) If the Verb in the Principal clause is in the Present or Future Tense, the Verb in the Dependent clause must be expressed by MAY (Present Tense).

(b) If the Verb in the Principal clause is in the Past Tense, the Verb in the Dependent clause must (in accordance with Rule - I) be expressed by MIGHT (Past Tense).

1. Simple Present Tense
Principal Clause : He comes
Dependent Clause : so that he may see me.

2. Simple Past Tense
Principal Clause : He came
Dependent Clause : so that he might see me.

3. Simple Future Tense
Principal Clause : He will come
Dependent Clause : so that he may see me.

4. Present Continuous Tense
Principal Clause : He is coming
Dependent Clause : so that he may see me.

5. Past Continuous Tense
Principal Clause : He was coming
Dependent Clause : so that he might see me.

6. Future Continuous Tense
Principal Clause : He will be coming
Dependent Clause : so that he may see me.

7. Present Perfect Tense
Principal Clause : He has come
Dependent Clause : so that he may see me.

8. Past Perfect Tense
Principal Clause : He had come
Dependent Clause : so that he might see me.

9. Future Perfect Tense
Principal Clause : He will have come
Dependent Clause : so that he may see me.

10. Present Perfect Continuous Tense
Principal Clause : He has been coming
Dependent Clause : so that he may see me.

11. Past Perfect Continuous Tense
Principal Clause : He had been coming
Dependent Clause : so that he might see me.

12. Future Perfect Continuous Tense
Principal Clause : He will have been coming
Dependent Clause : so that he may see me.

The word LEST - that not

The only Auxiliary Verb that can be used after LEST is should, whatever may be the Tense of the Verb in the Principal clause.

Principal Clause : He goes (or) He is going
Dependent Clause : lest he should see me (or) so that he may not see me.

Principal Clause : He went
Dependent Clause : lest he should see me (or) so that he might not see me.

Principal Clause : He will go
Dependent Clause : lest he should see me (or) so that he may not see me.

Conjunctions of Comparison

When the Dependent clause is introduced by some Conjunction of Comparison, Rule - I has no existence whatever. Any Tense can be followed by any Tense.

Principal Clause….Dependent Clause

1. He helps you more….than he helped me.
2. He helps you more….than he helps me.
3. He will help you more…. than he has helped me.
4. He has helped you more…. than he helped me.
5. He helped you more…. than he is helping me.
6. He will help you more….than he was helping me.

Note

If the comparison is expressed by AS WELL AS instead of THAN, the same rule holds good. Any tense may be followed by any tense, according to the sense intended by the speaker.

1. He helps you as well as he helped me.
2. He will help you as well as he has helped me.

If no Verb is expressed after THAN or after AS WELL AS, the Tense of the Verb understood in the Dependent clause is the same as that of the Verb expressed in the Principal clause.

1. He helped you more than he helped me.
2. He will help you as well as he will help me.



  1. Tenses in English Grammar
  2. Main Tenses
  3. Different Forms of Tenses
  4. Twelve Tenses in English
  5. Simple Present Tense
  6. Simple Past Tense
  7. Simple Future Tense
  8. Present Continuous Tense (Present Progressive Tense)
  9. Past Continuous Tense (Past Progressive Tense)
  10. Future Continuous Tense (Future Progressive Tense)
  11. Present Perfect Tense
  12. Past Perfect Tense
  13. Future Perfect Tense
  14. Present Perfect Continuous Tense (Present Perfect Progressive)
  15. Past Perfect Continuous Tense (Past Perfect Progressive)
  16. Future Perfect Continuous Tense (Future Perfect Progressive)
  17. Forms of The Tenses and Indicative Mood
  18. Tenses and Active Voice
  19. Tenses and Passive Voice
  20. Tenses
  21. Tenses in English
  22. Continuous Forms of English Tenses
  23. The Three Perfect Tenses
  24. The Progressive Perfect Tenses


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