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Sequence of Tense

Primary Sequence: main verb is in the present, future, or future perfect (and sometimes the perfect tense counts as primary sequence); imperatives also count as primary sequence
contemporary action (incomplete) present subjunctive
prior action (completed action) perfect subjunctive
Secondary Sequence: main verb is in the past, meaning the perfect, imperfect, and pluperfect
contemporary action (incomplete) imperfect subjunctive
prior action (completed action) pluperfect subjunctive

Here are some examples of Sequence of Tense with indirect question:

Present Subjunctive:
Quid facit ille? Nescio. (What is that man doing? I don't know.)
Nescio quid ille faciat. (I don't know what that man is doing.)
... Nescio: present tense = primary sequence.
... The man has not completed what he is doing; he is doing something at the same time that I am unable to describe it = contemporary action.

Perfect Subjunctive:
Quid viderunt mulieres? Exponam. (What did the women see? I will explain.)
Exponam quid viderint mulieres. (I will explain what the women saw.)
... Exponam: future tense = primary sequence.
... The women saw something prior to my explaining it = prior action.

Imperfect Subjunctive:
Quid optant? Omnes dixerunt. (What do they want? Everybody said.)
Omnes dixerunt quid optarent. (Everybody said what they wanted.)
... Dixerunt: perfect tense = secondary sequence.
... The wanting is not a completed action, everybody was still wanting something when they said what they wanted = contemporary action.

Pluperfect Subjunctive:
Quis pecuniam perdidit? Marcus rogavit. (Who lost the money? Marcus asked.)
Marcus rogavit quis pecuniam perdidisset. (Marcus asked who lost the money.)
... Rogavit: perfect tense = secondary sequence.
... The losing of the money happened before Marcus asked his question = prior action.

Modern Languages 4970 / MRS 4903: Medieval Latin. Spring 2003 Online Course at the University of Oklahoma. Visit for more info.
Laura Gibbs, University of Oklahoma - Information Technology © 2003. Last updated: December 29, 2002 7:12 PM