Chapter 5-10-2: Past Tenses in Sequence

Grammar > Using Verbs > Sequence > Past Tenses

When the verb in the independent clause is the past tense, the verb in the dependent clause is usually in a past tense as well. The past tenses are the simple past, the past progressive, the past perfect, and the past perfect progressive.

The verb in dependent clause should accurately reflect the temporal relationship of the two clauses.

If the action in the dependent clause occurred before action in the independent clause, the past perfect is usually the most appropriate tense for the dependent clause, as in the following sentences.

Miriam arrived at 5:00 p.m. but Mr. Whitaker had closed the store.

The action of dependent clause ("but Mr. Whitaker had closed the store") is described with a past perfect tense ("had closed") because the act of closing takes place before the act of arriving. The simple predicate of the independent clause ("by the time Miriam arrived") is in the simple past.

After we located the restaurant that Christian had raved about, we ate supper there every Friday.

Since actions of the second dependent clause ("that Christian had raved about") precedes the other actions in the sentence, the past perfect is most appropriate verb tense.

We fed the elephant oats for a week because it had eaten all the hay.

In this sentence, both actions take place in the past, but the action of the independent clause (the feeding oats) follows the action of dependent clause (the eating of the hay) and as a result, the predicate of the dependent clause is in the past perfect ("had eaten").

After she had learnedd to drive, Alice felt more independent.

In this example the predicate of the dependent clause is in the past perfect ("had learned") because the act of learning preceded the independent clause's the act of feeling independent.

If the action in the dependent clause, occurs at the same time as the action in the independent clause, the tense usually match. So if the simple past is used in the independent clause, the simple past may also used in the dependent clause.

When the verb of the independent clause is one of the progressive tenses, the simple past is usually the most appropriate tense for the dependent clause, as in the following sentences:

Lena was telling a story about the exploits of a red cow when a tree branch broke the parlour window.

Here the action "was telling" took place in the past and continued for some time in the past. The breaking of the window is described in the simple past.

When the recess bell rang, Jesse was writing a long division problem on the blackboard.

This sentence describes actions ("ran" and "was writing") that took place sometime in the past, and emphasis the continuing nature of the action that takes place in the independent clause ("was writing").

One of the most common source of verb sequence error arises from a confusion of the present perfect ("has walked") and the past perfect ("had walked"). Both tense convey a sense of pastness, but the present perfect is categorised as a present tense verb.

One of the easiest ways of determining whether you've used the perfect tenses correctly is to examine the auxiliary verb. Remember "has" and "have" are present tense auxiliaries and "had" is a past tense auxiliary. The future tense auxiliary is "will."

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