14. The sequence of tenses in indirect speech and if events are imagined

Sequence of tenses means that the chronology of the events on the timeline has to be described by verbal tenses. Relationships on a timeline can only be described by adverbs or by the verb tense itself. In a narrow sense we speak of sequence of tenses if an event is imagined, because it is feared, thought, believed, hopped, etc.. The imagined event can happen before, at the same time or after it had been imagined and it can be imagined in the present or in the past. In the sequence of tenses the different verbe tenses have a strong semantic value, because they express anteriority, simultanity and posteriority.


before imagined: He thought, he had lost his key.
after imagined: He hoped, that he would find it.


It is crucial to see that roman languages, in opposite to English and german, has two full fledged systems of verb tenses even in the subjunctive mood. To any verbe tense in indicative we have a corresponding tense in subjunctive. That means that in both moods it is possible to express anteriority, simultanity and posteriority independently from the question whether the introductory verb is in a tense of present or in a tense of the past. Some verbs like to think, to take something for granted, to know etc. don't describe a subjective attitude toward the reality, they describe objective facts or in any case events that the person who imagines these events takes for objective facts. Others like hope, fear, to wish describe an subjective attitude towards the reality. Somebody who fears that someone else will come, doesn't only imagine that this person comes, but has subjective attitude concerning this fact. In the first case the verb requires the indicative mood and in the second case the subjunctive mood, but in both cases it is possible, in roman languages and in Portuguese, to describe the chronologicial order of the events.

In English that doesn't make any difference, because there is no difference in the form, apart from some exceptions, "She wished he were more polite", there is no difference in the form between the indicative and the subjunctive mood.

the verb of imagination requires the Indikativ
before: She thinks he has done his homework.
at the same time: She thinks he is doing his homework.
afterwards: She thinks he will do his homework.
the verb requierse the subjunctive
before: She hopes he has done his homework.
at the same time: She hopes he is doing his homework.
afterwards: She hopes he will do his homework.


Life is much easier if we understand that there is no difference between the sequence of tenses and indirect speech. The indirect speech is a special case of the sequence of tenses in general. Verbs like to tell, to speak, to relate follows the same scheme as verbs like to think, to confirm, to wonder. They requiere the indicative mood and can express anteriority, simultanity or posteriority. Whether an event is thought or told doesn't make any difference.

event imagined: He thought she was there.
indirect speech: He told she was there.

There is no difference between the sequence of tenses in general an indirect speech. What should be understood is something else. Some verbs like to hope requires the subjunctive mood and other verbs like to think / to tell requiere the indicative mood. That is really a difference to be taken into account in roman languages. However the distinction made in grammar books between sequence of tenses and indirect speech is confusing and a hindrance for the understanding of something actually very simple.

[In some languages, for instance german, it is usefull to distinguish between the indirect speech and the sequence of tenses because the indirect speech has a different scheme, but german is a very special case concerning this aspect and not our issue right now.]

There is a third situation where the sequence of tenses has to be respected. The chronology has to be described as well in the case that we have a main clause and a subordinate clause introduced by a conjunction. In this case we have two events, one in the main clause and another one in the subordinate clause and the chronoloy between these two events has to be described. We will rediscuss this issue in chapter 19.


sequence of tenses in subordinate clauses
the event in the subordinate clause happens before: Although he has been ill, he goes to work.
the event in the subordinate clause happens at the same time: Although he is ill, he goes to work.
the event in the subordinate clause happens afterwards: Although he will be ill, he goes to work.


And the same difference to be made between the verbs that require the indicative mood and the verbs that requires the subjunctive mode is to be made in the subordinate clauses. If the conjunction requires the subjunctive, we have to use a subjunctive and if the conjunctio requires the indicative, we have to use the indicative and in both cases the sequence of tenses has to be respected. A conjunction like as soon as for instance requires the conjuntivo / subjunctive in Portuguese, because it is unclear when the event described in the subordinate clause introduced by as soon as will happen.

conjunctions that require the subjunctive mode
the event in the subordinate clause happens before: As soon a he has done it, I will give him the money.
the event in the subordinate clause happens at the same time:: While he is here, we can't talk.
the event in the subordinate clause happens afterwards: As soon as he will do it, I will give him the money.


The basic problem is therefore very easy to understand. We have to describe the chronology of the events in any possible situation. Whether an event is imagined or told, whether the verb requires the indicative or the subjunctive, whether the anchor, the moment when the event is told or imagined is in the past or in the present.

For any tense in the present exists a tense in the past. The present perfect, in English, for instance is used when an event has happened immediately befor it has been imagined or told and is still relevant in the moment it is imagined or told. The corresponding time ist the past perfect. The past perfect describes an event that had happened immediately before it had been imagined or told in the past. If we put an direct speech to indirect speech we move the anchor to the past, the tense used to describe what had happened in the past has to move one step backwards as well.

direct speech in present => John says: I have lost my wallet, I have no money.
indirect speech in the past tense => John said that he had lost his wallet and that he didn't have money.

If John describes an event in the present that has an impact on the present, he uses the present perfect. But if we move the anchor one step backwards the present perfect becomes a past perfect. The same is true for the present. At the same time that John tells his problem, he has no money. If we move the anchor one step backwards, the present tense becomes past tense.

We have to distinguish between the tenses of the present and the tenses of the past. If the anchor, the verb that describes the type of imagination or the type of communication, is in a tense of the present, we use the present tense to describe simultanity, the present perfect to describe an accomplished action in the immediate past and the future to describe the imagined or told action as happening in the future. If the anchor is in a tense of the past, we describe simultanity with the past tense, something that happened in the immediate past in the past perfect and an event that is going to happen in the future from a perspective of the past with the conditional. The following tenses are tenses of the present or tenses of the past.

tenses of the present: presente, futuro, condicional simples*, pretérito perfeito composto**
tenses of the past: imperfeito, pretérito perfeito simples, mais-que-perfeito composto


* controversial: In the case of the condicional the subjunctive and indicative are possible, althoug that is disputed. Sentences like ""Eu pediria que os senhores tivessem um pouco de paciência", "I would like the gentlemen to be more patient" are possible.
** ** Theoretically possible, but it is hard to imagine a realistic context where it fits, because the role played by the pretérito perfeito composto do indicativo differs a lot from the use in other roman languages, see 11.2. It is possbile that someone imagines and tells something regulary until the present, "I have been telling you the whole day, that I have lost my wallet and that therefore I don't have money", is possible, but rare.

The tables below shows the use of the tenses in the case that the verb requires the indicativ. (The case that it requires the subjunctive is dicussed later.) As example for a tense in the present we use the presente do indicativo, as example for a tense of the past we use the pretérito perfeito simples. Actually these are the verb tenses most used in this context. If the verb that describes the type of imagination / comunication is in the present all the rules discussed in chapter nine are valid. In the case that the verb that describes the type of imagination is in the past, some verbal tenses loses their original function. The imperfeito for instance describes simultanity in this context and not an undefined period of time, where the beginning and the end of an action irrelevant (We will discuss this point later when we have a concrete example in front of our eyes.)


tense of present the verb that desribes the type of immagination / indirect speech is in a tense of present and requires the indicative: dizer, saber etc.
tense example translation
before:
beginning and ending irrelevant imperfeito Eu sei que não trabalhava. I know that he didn't work.
accomplished actionperfeito simples Eu sei que o fez. I know that he has done it.
same time:
in general presente Eu sei que dorme muito. I know, that he sleeps a lot.
continuous formestar + infinitivo / gerundio Eu sei que esta consertando o carro. I know, that he is reparing the car.
afterwards:
action happens in the future futuro Eu sei que o consertará. I know that he will repare it.
accomplished in the future futuro composto Eu sei que o terá consertado. I know that he will have repared it.


If the verb that describes the type of immagination / indirect speech is in a time of the past some tenses lose their original function.

tense of the past The verb that describes the immagination / indirect speech is in a time of the past and requires the indicative.
time example translation
before:
beginning and ending irrelevantimperfeito Eu sabia que não trabalhava. I knew that he didn't work.
beforemais-que-perfeito-simples Eu sabia que o tinha feito. I knew that he had done it.
same time:
at the same timeimperfeito Eu sabia que dormiva. I knew that he slept.
continuous form estar + infinitivo / gerundio Eu sabia que estava consertando o carro. I knew that he was sleeping.
afterwards:
Future from the perspective of the past condicional Eu sabia que o consertaría. I knew that he would repare it.
Accomplished action from the perspective of the past condicional composto Eu sabia que o tería consertado. I knwe that he would have repared it.


If the verb in imperfeito depends on a verb that describes an immagination / indirect speech it loses its original function. We see that very clearly if we take a verb that by nature can never be in imperfeito like to explode. The imperfeito describes an enduring action that last for some time. To explode however is not a lasting action, see imperfeito. A sentence like "He was reading a book while the bombe exploded" doesn't make any sense. In English the past tense can be used as well to describe action that doesn't last, in Portuguese not.

Simultanity between immmagination / indirect speech and the action immagined / told
Verb of immagination / indirect speech is in the present: Ele pensa que uma bomba explode.
He thinks that the bombe explodes.
Verb of immagination / indirect speech is in the past: Ele pensou que uma bomba explodia.
He thought that the bombe exploded.


If we put the sentence "Ele pensa que una bomba explode" in the past we get "Ele pensou que uma bomba explodia" and not "Ele pensou que uma bomba explodiu". Normally the imperfeito never ever can describe an event that doesn't last. However if this event is immagined or told that is possible. The imperfeito, whose basic function is to describe an action that lasts in time and whose beginning and end is unclear or irrelevant, loses this function in this context. A bombe explodes in milliseconds, otherwise it wouldn't be a bomb, it has a very concrete beginning and end, actually the moment of an explosion is so short, that the beginning and the end is the same thing. The imperfeito is used because there is no alternative. The pretérito perfeito simples describes an action accomplished in a accomplished past and that is exactly what we don't want to say in this example. We don't want to say that the bombe exploded before he immagined that it explodes, we want to say that it exploded at the same period of time. In the sequence of tenses the imperfeito changes its normal function.


The conditional normally describes, in condtional clauses of type II and III, a possibility and not a fact. However in the indirect speech and if an event is imagined it describes an event that is going to occur in the future from the perspective of the past. If this event really happened or not is irrelevant.

In grammar books we find rules that describes in an abstract way how the verb tenses has to be modified when a sentence that describes an immagination or is told are to be transformed if the same sentence is put to the past, in other words if the anchor is moved back. We can learn these rules by heart, the less efficient method, or simply understand the basic logic, this is much easier. In the table we use the verb saber (to know, to learn), we can use the verb dizer (to tell, to say) as well. Concerning the basic logic there is no difference between the sequence of tenses in general and indirect speech. The indirect speech is only, in roman languages, a special case of the the sequence of tenses in general. However there is a difference concerning the use of the mood. If the the verb that describes the type of immagination requires the conjuntive mood, for instance to hope, we have to use the conjunctive, if it requires the indicative mood, for instance to know, we have to use the indicative mood. However any tense in indicative mood has a corresponding tense in subjunctive mood an the basic logic is always the same.

the event happened befor being immagined, told
imperfeito remains imperfeito
Eu sei que não trabalhava. Eu sabía que não trabalhava.*
pretérito perfeito simples becomes pretérito mais-que-perfeito composto
Eu sei que o fez. Eu soube que o tinha feito.*
the event happens at the same time it is immagined, told
presente becomes imperfeito
Eu sei que dorme. Eu soube que dormiva.*
presente of estar + gerund becomes imperfeito of estar + gerund
Eu penso que esta consertando o carro. Eu soube que estava consertando o carro.*
the event happens after the time is is immagined, told
futuro I becomes condicional simples
Eu sei que o conserterá. Eu soube que o consertaría.*
futuro II becomes condicional II
Eu sei que o terá consertado. Eu soube que o tería consertado.*

* Saber in perfeito simple means to hear in the sense of to get informed. "Eu soube que dormiva", "I heard that was sleeping". The basic logic wouldn't change if we use the pretérito imperfeito, because both are tenses of the past, however the meaning would change. "Eu sabia que dormiva" means "I knew that he was sleeping."

The basic logic doesn't change if the verb that describes the type of immagination requires the subjunctive. The time in conjuntivo has the same function as the time in indicativo. The imperfeito do conjuntivo expresses simultanity, the perfeito composto do conjuntivo describes that an event in the immediate past has an an impact on the present, the pretérito mais-que-perfeito do conjuntivo describes that an event has an impact on another event in the past. The tables below shows the whole system in the case that the verb that describes the type of immagination requires the subjunctive.

tense of the present The verb that describes the type of immagination is in a tense of the present and requires the conjuntivo: esperar, temer, querer etc.
tense example translation
beforeperfeito composto do conjuntivo Espero que tenham tido êxito. I hope that you have been successful.
at the same timepresente do conjuntivo Espero que tenham êxito. I hope that you are
afterwardspresente do do conjuntivo Espero que tenham êxito. I hope that you will be successful.


tense of the past The verb that describes the type of immagination is in a tense of the past and requires the conjuntivo: esperar, temer, querer etc.
tense example translation
beforemais-que-perfeito composto do conjuntivo Esperei que tivessem tido êxito. I hoped that you had been successful.
at the same timeimperfeito do conjuntivo Esperei que tivessem êxito. I hoped that you were successful.
afterwardsimperfeito do conjuntivo Esperei que tivessem êxito. I hoped that you would be successful.

Portuguese, Spanish and French can't distiguish between simultanity and posteriority in the case that the verb that describes the type of immagination requires the conjunjunctive, in both cases it is imperfeito do conjuntivo. In Italian we have a switch in this situation and the condizionale II is used. In English there is no difference between indiciative and subjunctive and therefore there is no problem.





contact privacy statement imprint