• SEQUENCE OF TENSES

Part I: Sequence of Tenses

The simple part

    Do use the sequence of tenses when the attribution begins a sentence (except when it introduces a direct quote). 

    You should be aware of an important philosophical difference between different types of reporting: paraphrasing and reported speech. While the distinctions between the two are disappearing, the need to use the two descriptions as they relate to the positioning of attribution in a sentence has not. 

    Paraphrasing, in its purest sense, improves clarity yet captures tone and mood by using many of the speaker's words. Reporters choose it when the direct quote has minor or major flaws, including dullness, that interfere with clarity or flow of a story. 

    Reported speech is the choice when the reporter decides that the source's ideas can be communicated more clearly and efficiently by reworking large or small portions of what a speaker has said. 

    In reported speech, the sentence should begin with the attribution: 

    Examples: “Smith said...” or “He said...” or “She said...” or “According to the report,...” (for “according to,” see "Implied Past Tense Attribution" in When to Use: Part II).

 Sometimes reported speech is cloaked by an appositive: 

     Example: Johnson, the first KU student selected to be a Rhodes Scholar since 1983, said... 

     Despite the distance between “Johnson” and “said,” the sentence remains reported speech, so the rule applies. 

    To understand the grammatical nature of reported speech, note how it differs from the direct quote and paraphrase forms: 

    1. The attribution is not — can’t be, according to the conventions of proper English — set off from the sentence by commas; it's part of the sentence. 

    2. We are reporting events that occurred in the past; therefore, the verb of attribution is in the past tense. Because the sentence starts with attribution, the word of attribution (usually “said”) becomes the controlling verb of he sentence, and subordinate verbs in the sentence must conform to it in the past tense. 

    3.  Because the sentence starts with attribution, the word of attribution (usually “said”) becomes the controlling verb of the sentence; therefore, the other verbs, calls subordinate verbs, in the sentence must conform to it in the past tense. 


The normal sequence (present to past)

    Changing the tense of the speaker from present to simple past constitutes about most of the process we call sequence of tenses. 

    The speaker says: “I always vote in national elections.”

    We report it this way: He said he always voted in national elections. 

    We do not say: He said he always votes in national elections. Not only would that constitute a grammatical error, it also would indicate a condition of perpetual voting behavior, descriptive of the past and predictive of the future. 

    Example: The speaker says, “I am tired of hearing that song.” 

    We correctly report it: He said he was tired of hearing the song. 

    We do not say: He says he is tired of hearing the song.

    If that were true, others would soon tire of hearing him say it over and over and over. 

    Got it?


The conditional sequence (future to conditional)
    Plans are made in the future tense, but we cannot report them as fact until they have occurred. No matter how firm the plan, the future always is tenuous; therefore, the conditional sequence is used when the speaker casts things in the future tense. 

    The speaker says, "I will run for governor next year." 

    We write it: She said she would run for governor next year. 

    When you master the conditional and normal sequences, you will be prepared for at least 85 percent of the sequence of tenses situations you encounter. 


Using good tense sense
    Reporters must remember that the reported speech form is only one of three ways to present the ideas of a source. If adherence to sequence of tenses reduces the clarity of the speaker's meaning or, in some cases, simply sounds silly, as you'll read or have read in When NOT to Use Sequence of Tenses, the reported speech form should not be used. The reporter instead should use either a direct quote or a paraphrase.


Sequence of Tenses (Introduction)

 When NOT to Use Sequence of Tenses

When to Use, Part II: The “Not As Simple, But Not That Hard” Part

Tips (some that were covered and a few that weren't)



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