Sequence of Tenses informs us that the tense of a verb in the subordinate clause agrees in a logical sequence with the tense of a verb in the main clause.
This implies that verbs in the main and subordinate clauses of a sentence must show a logical relationship in time. Some rules that guide the placement of verbs in their correct tense sequence in the sentence are as follows:
If the verb in the main clause is in the present tense, the present perfect tense, the future tense, or the future perfect tense, the verb in the subordinate clause may be in any tense at all according to the meaning of the sentence.
- He thinks that she will come.
- Or: He thinks that she has come.
- Or: He thinks that she is coming.
If the verb in the main clause is in the past or past perfect tense, the verb in the subordinate clause is in the past or past perfect tense.
- She knew that he came.
- Or: She knew that he had come.
- Or: She had known that he would come.
But to express a universal truth or a habitual/persisting condition in a subordinate clause, if the verb in main clause is in the past tense, the verb in the subordinate clause should be in the present tense.
- He said that Jesus is the King of kings.
- Socrates said that man is mortal.
Infinitives and participles in the subordinate clause must be made to agree logically with the verb in the main clause; present infinitive and present participle are used in the subordinate clause to express action simultaneous with the action of the verb in the main clause while perfect infinitive and perfect participle are used to express action prior to that expressed by the verb in the main clause.
- He was happy to win.
- Or: He is happy to have won.
- Looking at his father’s face, little Obinna saw cheerfulness.
- Or: Having looked at his father’s face, Obinna smiled and went away.