18.2.2 sequence of tenses if the introductory verb is in a past tense

Third and last point.

  3) a) We should see that some tenses looses completely their original functions as they were described in the chapter the tense system of the roman languages. Let's have a look at this sentence.

Qualcuno bussa alla porta.
Someone knocks at the door.

Bussare / to knock is obviously a punctual action. Punctual actions never fray at the edges and in punctual actions can never be inserted another action (While the car was crashing against the wall he reads a book is not really a realistic scenario). It is, therefore, obvious that if a punctual action is to be described in the past we use the passato remoto or, in nowadays Italian, the passato prossimo.

Qualcuno bussò alla porta.
Someone knocked at the door.

But if you look at the table above you will see that a presente becomes an imperfetto. If the introductory verb is in a past tense and the tenses must therefore be adapted, we use the imperfetto.

Lui disse che qualcuno bussava alla porta.
He said that someone knocked at the door.

We see that the imperfetto has lost completely its original functions. Out of the reported speech / sequence of tenses it can never be used to describe punctual actions (except the few cases where this kind of action happens regularly). In the context of the sequence of tenses it expresses simultaneity.
Let's discuss it again.

Qualcuno bussa alla porta.
Someone knocks at the door.

Someone affirms that someone is knocking at the door. He tells that in the moment where someone else actually is knocking at the door. If we put the sentence in the reported speech and the introductory verb is in a past tense we have to describe this simultaneity as well. This is possible neither with the trapassato prossimo nor with the passato remoto.

Lui disse che qualcuno aveva bussato alla porta.
He said that someone had knocked at the door.

If we use the trapassato prossimo or the passato remoto the meaning of the original sentence would change. Using the passato remoto or the trapassato prossimo the meaning would be that in a period before the report someone knocked at the door. The reason why the imperfetto looses completely its original function and assumes another one in the context of the reported speech / sequence of tenses is therefore very easy to explain. There is no alternative. If the simultaneity between the report and the action / event is to be described it can only be done with the imperfetto because the trapassato prossimo and the passato remoto express anteriority.

b) the passato remoto expresses anteriority and not posteriority

A chain of actions / events, if one action follows the other, is described, at least in some regions of Italy (in all the regions where the functions of the passato remoto were not assumed by the passato prossimo), with the passato remoto. It's quite logical that the imperfetto can't be used in this context because the imperfetto describes actions which fray at the edges. If one action follows the other there is no frazzle, one action starts after the other has finished.

Bussò alla porta, entrò e ci fece un segno con la mano.
He knocked at the door, entered and gave us a sign with the hand.

We see that the passato remoto describes following actions. But in the sequence of tenses it describes anteriority. Let' s have a look at this sentence.

Lei lavorò molto.
She worked a lot.

We have a finished action in a finished past. Before someone makes this statement someone else have worked a lot, but doesn' t do it any more in the time of speaking. We can deduce from the scheme above that the passato remoto remains passato remoto or becomes a trapassato remoto if we convert the sentence to direct speech. So we have two possibilies.

Lui disse che lei lavorò molto and Lui disse che lei aveva lavorato molto.
He said that he had worked a lot.  

Both alternatives express anteriority. Bevor someone tells what someone else told, a third person had worked a lot. The passato remoto is not used in this case to describe a chains of actions, but two describe the actions against the chronological order. In a chain of action one action follows another (He said it, than he did it and then he got paid) but in the reported speech it it the other way round (He said that he worked a lot and then he got paid).

c) the condizionale II describes a future from a point of view of the past

The third tense which looses completely its original function in the sequence of tenses is the
condizionale II
. That's like in english. Normally the conditional is used to describe an action / event which is insecure or hypothetical. But in the context of the sequence of tenses it describes a future from a point of view of the past.

I go to Italy.
=> He said that he would go to Italy.
I go to Ialy.
=> He believed that he would go to Italy.

Nevertheless there is one very important thing you should know if you speak French or Spanish. In French or Spanish the condicional I / conditionnel I is used in this situation, but in Italian we use the CONDIZIONALE II. It is absolutely necessary to see that because the use of the condizionale I is considered WRONG in this context. The condizionale I is used if the introductory verb is in a present tense (presente, futuro I, condizionale I), but if the introductory verb is in a past tense (passato remoto, passato prossimo, imperfetto, trapassato prossimo), in other words if we have to describe a future from a point of view of the past we have to use the CONDIZIONALE II.

Lui farà una sciocchezza.
He will do something stupid.
Lei pensava che lui avrebbe fatto una sciocchezza.
She thought that he would do something stupid.

It doesn't matter whether the condizionale II describes a reality or an irreality in both cases the condizionale II is used.

Lei pensava che lui avrebbe fatto una scioccheza, ma tutto è andato bene.
She thought, that he would do something stupid but everything went well.
Lei pensava che lui avrebbe fatto una sciocchezza, ma alla fine non fece niente.
She thought, that he would do something stupid but finally he haven' t done anything.

Beside that it is possible as well to add a normal if-clause.

Lei pensava che lui avrebbe fatto una sciocchezza se non lo avessimo aiutato.
She thought that he is going to do something stupid, if we wouldn' t help him.





contact privacy statement imprint