table of content chapter 1818.2 the sequence of tenses with verbs which requires the indicativo

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chapter 18: sequence of tenses

  18.2 the sequence of tenses with verbs which requires the indicativo
 

Inside the sequence of tenses we have to distinguish between four situations.

a) The introductory verb can require the indicative and is in a present tense
(presente, futuro I, condizionale I)
aa) The introductory verb can require the congiuntivo and is in a present tense.
b) The introductory verb can require the indicative and is in a past tense
(passato remoto, imperfetto, passato prossimo, trapassato prossimo, condizionale II)
bb) The introductory verb can require the congiuntivo and is in a past tense.

* Keep in mind that the passato prossimo is a tense of the past in Italian. It is NOT as in Spanish.

And in all these situations we must distinguish between three different situations. The actions / events of the subordinate clause can have happened before, at the same time or after being imagined / told. We are going to see later that the distinction between reported speech and sequence of tenses that you can find in all grammar books is useless and confusing from a didactic point of view. The reported speech is only a special case of the sequence of tenses, the problem is in both cases the same and resolved in the same way. The crucial thing one must understand is the fact that an adaptation of the tenses is not needed if the introductory verb stands in a present tense and is necessary if it stands in a past tense. If the introductory verb stands in a present tense only the rules are to apply which we have already seen in the chapter tenses.

a) Lui dice / sa: "La macchina non è ancora stata riparata."
  He says / knows: "The car is not already repaired."
  b) Lui dice / sa che la macchina non è ancora stata riparata.
  He says / knows that the car is not already repaired.

We see that the subordinate clause in b) uses the same tenses as the simple declarative sentence a). But if the sentence starts with an introductory verb in a past tense, the situation changes.

aa) Lui disse / sapeva: "La macchina non è ancora stata riparata."
  He said / knew: The car has not already repaired.
  bb) Lui disse / sapeva che la macchina non era ancora stata riparata.
  He said / knew that the car had not been repaired already.

We see that the declaration sentence in aa) is in the passato prossimo ("...è stata riparata"), the subordinate clause in bb) in trapassato prossimo ("...era stata riparata"). Normally you find in grammar books a schema which describes how to adapte the tenses if the introductory verb is in a past tense. Something like that.

presente becomes imperfetto

imperfetto remains imperfetto

passato prossimo becomes trapassato prossimo

futuro I becomes condizionale II

That's the pragmatic approach. But you can try to understand as well why this transformation is necessary and that's perhaps easier than learning the rules. Let's have a look at these simple declaration sentences.

He eats a cake.
  He rides bicycle.
  He reads a book.
  He wrote him a letter.

In simple declaration sentences the anchor around which the actions / event must be grouped is the present of the speaker. Let's have a look at this dialogue.

A: You still have money?
  B: Yes, I have just been to the bank.

The person participating in this conversation are obviously in the same period of time. The question of A refers to the present of A and the answer of B refers to the same present as well, describes something that has happened immediately before the present of A and whose consequences are still relevant in the present of A because he has money. This logic wouldn't be modified if we read a novel, which is set in the past. Even in this case the actions / events would refer to the present of the speaker.

No we come to the crucial point. If someone tells / thinks what someone else told / thought (Jim said - knew / says - know that Jane told him that she had been in Britain) we have to distinguish between two very differenct situations. The introductory verb (in our case to say / to know) can be in a present tense (presente, futuro I, condizionale I) or in a past tense (passato remoto, passato prossimo, trapassato prossimo, imperfetto). If the introductory verb is in a present tense, the person who tells / thinks what someone else tells / thinks are in the same period of time. The anchor on the timeline is the moment where someone tells / thinks something and not the moment where someone reports what the other thinks / says. But due to the fact that they are in the same period of time that doesn't make any difference and so the tenses need not to be modified.

declaration sentence
I don't have any money left.
  Non ho più soldi.
The introductory verb is in a present tense
  He know, that she doesn' t have any money left.
  Lui sa che lei non ha più soldi.

The one who tells what someone else knows is in the same period of time as the one who tells it. The anchor on the time line is therefore not modified and only the rules we have seen in the chapter about tenses are to be applied.

The situation changes completely if the introductory verb is in a tense of the past because than the anchor is the present of the person who told / thought something and not the present of the person who reports what someone else told / thought. The tenses must be modified and some tenses, for instance the imperfetto looses completely their original functions. The rules we have seen in the chapter about the tenses are not entirely valid any more.

declaration sentence
I don' t have any money left.
  Non ho più soldi.
The introductory verb is in a tense of the past
  He knew that he didn' t have any money left.
  Lui sapeva che lei non aveva più soldi.

What has happened? Someone reports in the present (what is not necessarily THE PRESENT, in a text it can be as well the present of the speaker, the historical present), that someone else had said / thought something. It is crucial to see that the anchor on the timeline around which the actions / events has to be arranged is the moment in which someone said / thought something and not the moment someone reports what was thought or said.

Let's see an example.

Mario believed (on Wednesday), that Juan had broken his leg (on Monday).

In this sentence there is a third person, let's say Ricardo, who tells on Friday what Mario believed on Wednesday about something that had happened on Monday. The anchor around which the events must be arranged is Wednesday, not Friday. That' s the simple but crucial point we must see. We are going to discuss that more in detail in the following chapters and we are going to see as well that the tenses looses their original functions in this context.



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