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Table of contents Chapter 22 22.2 Sequence of tenses

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Chapter 22: Reported speech and consecutio temporum

  22.2 Sequence of tenses

The sequence of tenses depends on the fact they describe.

  Example:
Subió la escalera y se cayó.
= He climbed the ladder and fell down.
Estuvo en el hospital porque se había caído de la escalera.
= He was in hospital, because he had fallen down the ladder.
Si sube la escalera seguramente se va a caer.
= If he climbs the ladder, he sure is going to fall down.
Si no hubiera subido la escalera no se habría caído.
= If he did not climb the ladder, he wouldn't have fallen down.
Mañana se habrá quebrado una piedra, porque subirá la escalera.
= Tomorrow, he will have broken a leg, because he will climb the ladder.

This type of sentences is simple. It does not matter at what point of time the speaker is. The rules of chapter 6 apply here fully.
When the position of the speaker comes to focus because the action described is something thought, imagined, wished or feared, the position of the speaker within the time span is important. Have a look.

  Example:
Pienso y por lo tanto soy. = I think and therefore I am.
Pensé y por lo tanto fui. = I thought and therefore I was.
Pensé y por lo tanto hube sido. = I thought and therefore I had been.
Pienso y por lo tanto seré. = I think and therefore I will be.
Pensé y por lo tanto sería. = I thought and therefore I would be.
Pienso y por lo tanto fuí. = I think and therefore I was.

We see it's not that easy anymore because we have a second dimension, the first one is the action itself and the second is the focus on the person that produces (by thinking, imagining, wishing etc.) these actions.

Case I: The sequence of actions are independent of the person thinking / talking about it
here we apply the rules of chapter 6
1) You smoke so many cigarettes that you will fall ill of cancer.
2) You have smoked so many cigarettes that you are ill of cancer now.
3) If you are going to smoke cigarettes, you will fall ill of cancer.

Case II: The sequence of action is appended by the person reporting about it (by being in one                or the other way mentally involved

If the point of time of speaking and the point of time of being involved in the sequence of action NOT identical it can get a bit challenging.

1.a) I always thought that you smoke so many cigarettes that you would fall ill.

1.b) I will think that you have smoked so many cigarettes that you fell ill of cancer.

1.c) I think that you smoke so many cigarettes that you will fall ill of cancer.

2.a) I thought that you had smoked so many cigarettes that you are sick of cancer.

2.b) I will think that you have smoked so many cigarettes that you are ill with cancer.

2.c) I think that you have smoked so many cigarettes that you are ill with cancer now.

3.a) I thought if you are going to smoke so many cigarettes you will fall ill of cancer.

3.b) I will think that when you are going to smoke cigarettes, you will fall ill of cancer.

3.c) I think that when you are going to smoke cigarettes you will fall ill of cancer.

Is the introductory verb in present tense then there is no difference between the case I and case II. This is important to realise, because it means for the Spanish grammar that the rules of chapter 6 apply when the introductory verb is in a "present" tense (presente, pretérito perfecto, futuro I und futuro II).

Is the verb in a past tense (pretérito imperfecto, pretérito indefinido, plusquamperfecto) there are rules to be taken into consideration. We will have a look at them. Ffirst to remind you; Is the involvement of the speaking person in the present (tense) there are no differences to the "normal" use of the tenses.

1) case I: You smoke so many cigarettes that you will fall ill of cancer.

1.c) case II: I think that you smoke so many cigarettes that you will fall ill of cancer.

2) case I: You have smoke so many cigarettes that you are ill of cancer.

2.c) case II: I think that you have smoked so many cigarettes that you are ill of cancer now.

3) case I: If you are going to smoke cigarettes you will fall ill of cancer.

3.c) case II: I think that you will smoke so many cigarettes that you will fall ill of cancer.

As was to be seen in this table there is no difference between the two cases if the introductory verb is in a present tense. Then the point of time of the involvement of the speaker and the point of time of speaking is the same.

  As present tenses are to be accounted
presente (= present)
pretérito perfecto (= present perfect)
futuro (= future I)
futuro perfecto (= future II)

It's challenging to have a introductory verb in the past tense.

  Past tenses are:
pretérito imperfecto (= simple past)
pretérito indefinido (= simple past)
plusquamperfecto (= past perfect)

To understand the problem we have a look at this sentence

  Example:
Cortaron el árbol. = They cut the tree.


  Now it's clear that the time has to be changed
"before"
Creyó que habían cortado el árbol. = He thought that they had cut the tree.
"same time"
Creyó que cortaban el árbol. = He thought that they cut the tree.
"after"
Creyó que cortarían el árbol. = He thought that they would cut the tree.

The rules discussed in chapter 6 are not valid anymore. If the action is before the mental involvement of the speaker, the pretérito plusquamperfecto is to be used. Is the mental involvement at the same time the imperfecto is the right choice, with the action after the point of involvement the right tense is the condicional.

  The overall the situation is this
present
tenses
presente
pretérito perfecto
futuro
futuro perfecto
The tenses are according to the logic described in chapter 6.

past
tenses

pretérito imperfecto
pretérito indefinido
plusquamperfecto
action before involvement: plusquamperfecto
action at the same time as involvement:
pretérito imperfecto
action after involvement and not yet finished:
condicional simple
action after involvement and finished:
condicional compuesto

  Note:

When discussing the mental involvement one could get the idea to discuss verbs that require the subjuntivo. The above is - so far - only meant for the indicativo. Furthermore, please note that verbs like suponer (to suppose), creer (to believe, to think), pensar (to think) and presumir (to assume) do not require the subjuntivo. Rather impersonal expressions of doubt require the subjuntivo.


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