Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Tenses (2).

Tenses (2). Today: Sequence of Tenses. The term “sequence of tenses” refers to the relationship of tenses in subordinate clauses to those in principal clauses. Generally, the former follow from the latter. In careful writing, the tenses agree both logically and grammatically. The basic rules of tense sequence are easily stated, although the many examples that follow belie their ostensible simplicity. (1) When the principal clause has a verb in the present (“he says”), present perfect (“he has said”), or future (“he will say”), the subordinate clause has a present-tense verb. Grammarians call this the primary sequence. (2) When the principal clause is in past tense (“he said,” “he was saying”) or past perfect (“he had said”), the subordinate clause has a past-tense verb. Grammarians call this the secondary sequence. (3) When a subordinate clause states an ongoing or general truth, it should be in the present tense regardless of the tense in the principal clause — thus “He said yesterday that he is Danish,” not *”He said yesterday that he was Danish.” This might be called the “ongoing-truth exception.” *Invariably inferior form. Next: Errors in Sequence of Tenses. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “It is best to assume a hearer or reader who holds views opposed to those we advocate, as, if we work with the possibility of hostile criticism in mind, we shall be more careful to build up an irrefragable argument than if we work believing that whatever we say will find easy acceptance.” Frances M. Perry, An Introductory Course in Argumentation 57 (1906).
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