Sergey Sulimov


Sergey Sulimov


How to correctly coordinate the verbs tenses in sentences?

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Grammatical rules in English require strict adherence, with rare exceptions. This also applies to the tenses’ coordination in English, when the verb tense in the main sentence affects the verb tense in the subordinate clause. Today we are telling you exactly in which cases and how these changes occur.

Simultaneous actions

If the actions in both the main and the sentence subordinate parts occur simultaneously, then either Past Simple (форма простого прошедшего времени) or Past Continuous (форма прошедшего длительного времени) should be used in the subordinate part.

I thought that he was studying at this university. — Я думал, что он учится в этом университете (Past Continuous).

I knew why you didn’t want to go to Africa. — Я знал, почему ты не хочешь поехать в Африку (Past Simple).

The preceding action in the subordinate

When the action in the subordinate clause occurs before the action in the main, then you need to use one of the forms of the past perfect tense: Past Perfect (собственно прошедшее совершенное) or Past Perfect Continuous (его длительная форма).

Peter said today that he had seen me at the theater a few days before. — Питер сегодня сказал, что он видел меня в театре несколько дней назад (Past Perfect).  

He said that he had been playing football from the early morning. — Он сказал, что играет в футбол с раннего утра (Past Perfect Continuous).

Subsequent action in the   subordinate

If the action in the subordinate clause refers to the future, compared to the main one, then in the subordinate verb it is necessary to put it in one of the forms Future in the Past (будущее в прошедшем). It can be either a simple, or an extended or perfect form.

I was sure that you would have finished everything by the following month. — Я был уверен, что ты все закончишь к следующему месяцу (Future Perfect in the Past).

I didn’t expect that you would come tomorrow. — Я не ожидал, что ты завтра приедешь (Future Simple in the Past).

How to coordinate several subordinate clauses

The longer you learn the language, the more complex and interesting constructions you will encounter. In addition, sentences with several subordinate clauses in a row will not become uncommon. The times in them will be coordinated according to the same rules — depending on which main subordinate subordinate.

Anna thought her mother didn’t know where she would go on vacation the following year. — Анна думала, что ее мама не знает, куда она собирается в отпуск в следующем году.

Snow White was afraid that no one would find out that she had been poisoned by an evil stepmother. — Белоснежка была уверена, что никто не узнает, что ее отравила злая мачеха.

When there is no tense coordination

There are also cases where timing is not required.

1. When you talk about a well-known fact, permanent habits, laws, a specific date that everyone knows, in a subordinate clause.

2. As a child, I knew that the sun rises every day. — Уже в детстве я знал, что солнце всходит каждый день.

The teacher said that World War II ended on September 2, 1945. — Учитель рассказал, что Вторая мировая война закончилась 2 сентября 1945 года.

3. If the main sentence uses a verb in any of the present or future tenses, then agreement in the subordinate is not required.

4. I think it will snow tomorrow. — Я думаю, завтра будет снег.

I’ll think tomorrow what he did wrong. — Я подумаю завтра, что он сделал не так.

5. When modal verbs should, ought to are used in a subordinate clause. These modal verbs do not change in any way.

I said that he should spend more time with his family. — Я сказал, что ему следует уделять больше времени семье.

6. If you use an adjunct of cause, comparison, result, or a determinative adjunct, then it does not need to be coordinated with the main sentence.

7. Yesterday I watched a movie that is believed to be a real blockbuster. — Вчера я смотрел фильм, который считается настоящим блокбастером (определение).

Mary worked so hard last month that she still feels tired. — Мэри так много работала в прошлом месяце, что до сих пор чувствует себя уставшей (результат).

I read more books last year than I do this year. — Я больше читал книг в прошлом году, чем делаю в этом (сравнение).

Tenses a table in the English language

For clarity and a better understanding of tenses in English, we have put all the cases together in one table.

WasBecameUsage example
Present SimplePast SimpleI want to fly (Я хочу летать). → She said she wanted to fly (Она сказала, что хочет летать)
Present ContinuousPast ContinuousThey are reading a book now (Они читают книгу сейчас). → He saw that they were reading a book then (он увидел, что они сейчас читают книгу)
Present PerfectPast PerfectI have already completed all the tasks (Я уже выполнила все задания). → Cinderella said that she had already completed all the tasks (Золушка сказала, что она уже выполнила все задания)
Past SimplePast PerfectHe married Jane last week (Он женился на Джейн на прошлой неделе). → We didn’t know that he had married Jane the previous week (Мы не знали, что он женился на Джейн на прошлой неделе)
Past ContinuousPast Perfect ContinuousI was walking all day (Я гулял весь день напролет). → We thought that he had been walking all day long (Мы думали, что он гулял весь день напролет)
Present Perfect ContinuousPast Perfect ContinuousIt has been snowing for an hour (Снег идет уже час). → I was surprised that it had been snowing for an hour (Я удивился, что снег идет уже час)
Future SimpleFuture in the PastI will play in this play (Я буду играть в этом спектакле). → She knew that she would play in that play (Она знала, что будет играть в этом спектакле)
can, may, mustcould, might, had toI can fly (Я могу летать). → She said she could fly (Она сказала, что может летать)

Most of the time you will find tense agreement in indirect speech. The specifics of indirect speech require a separate analysis, because the subject is not easy. But the general rules shown in the table will help you get your sentences right.

Например: “I will write an essay tomorrow,” said Mary. → Mary said that she would write an essay the next day (Мэри сказала, что будет писать завтра эссе).

In addition to the table, there are a couple of points concerning indirect speech.

1. Transition Yes/No questions into indirect speech with if/whether.

2. Are you ready to write an essay?” asked the teacher. → The teacher asked if we were ready to write an essay (Учитель спросил, готовы ли мы писать эссе).

3. The transition from the imperative to the infinitive.

4. Be attentive!” reminded us the teacher. → The teacher reminded us to be attentive (Учитель напомнил, чтобы мы были внимательны).в английском

Not just verbs are changing

When coordinating the tenses in the main and subordinate sentences, not only the verb form but also the circumstances of time and place must be correctly changed: ago → before;

  • here → there;
  • last week/year → the previous week/year;
  • next week/year → the following week/year;
  • now → then;
  • these → those;
  • this → that;
  • today → that day;
  • tomorrow → the next/following day;
  • yesterday → the day before.
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