Studiu de specialitate – Sequence of tenses in Conditional clauses


Autor: prof. Mihaela Rîță
Școala Gimnazialã Nr. 1, Corbeni, jud. Argeș

The tenses an English speaker uses in subordinate clauses are always conditioned by the tense in the main clause. The definition of the sequence of tenses explains the SOT as „a set of rules governing the selection of verbal forms – tenses or moods – in certain types of subordinate clauses under the influence of a number of tenses or constructions in the main or regent clauses”, but if it were nothing more than that, SOT would not have been so seriously treated by linguists. In what follows I’ll illustrate how adverbial clauses of condition change under the constraints of the rules of the sequence of tenses.
It is known that the event described in the main clause depends on the condition described in the conditional clause. At lower levels pupils are taught that there are three (four) main types of conditional clauses – 0, I, II III, IV. According to Collins Cobuild these four types do not fully describe the normal patterns of tense in conditional clauses. Thus, the following situations are described:
1. When we are talking about a common occurrence, we use the present simple or the present continuous in the conditional clause and in the main clause: I am much mistaken if Emma’s doctrines give any strength of mind, or tend at all to make a girl adapt herself rationally to the varieties of her situation in life.

2. When we are talking about a common occurrence in the past, we use the simple past tense or the past continuous tense in the conditional clause. In the main clause, we use the simple past tense or a modal: If it was raining, we usually stayed indoors. / If she were to take any pains to marry him, she would probably repent it. (Austen)
3. When we are talking about a possible situation in the present, we usually use the simple present tense or the present perfect tense in the conditional clause. In the main clause we usually use a modal: You can leave if you like.
4. When we are talking about a possible future occurrence, we use the simple present tense in the conditional clause, and the simple future tense in the main clause: If he is unhappy, they will be unhappy too. (Austen)
Cobuild observes that a more formal way of taking about a possible future situation is to use should in the conditional clause. In the main clause we use a modal, usually will or would.: … if you should still be in this country when Mr. Martin marries, I wish you may not be drawn in by your intimacy with the sisters… (Austen) (fragment)

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