GMAT Sentence Correction: Sequence of Tenses Explained
Why should you know about the sequence of tenses? Isn’t it enough that you are already capable of distinguishing amongst the three tenses and their extended forms? May be that is enough for you, but the GMAT test developers do not concur with you and expect you to know the precise way in which the verb forms are used with Principle Clause and Subordinate Clause? Sounds Latin?
Here is a short explanation:
“I think he is here.” In this sentence, I think is the Principle Clause and He is here is the Subordinate Clause.
Let us quickly move to an explanation of the Sequence of Tenses, which will come in handy in the Sentence Correction section in GMAT.
Rules of Sequences
Rule 1: If the verb in the principal cause is in the present or future tense, the verb in the subordinate clause may be in any tense – present, past or future, according to the sense intended by the speaker, as
I think he is here. She will think I am here.
I think he will be here. She will think I shall be here.
I think he was here. She will think I was here.
Rule 2: If the verb in the Principal clause is in the past tense, the verb in the subordinate clause will be in the corresponding past tense; as,
The train had left before I reached the station.
I knew that Sasha wanted to eat an apple. (to eat is infinitive, hence not counted in the tense form)
Exception to Rule 2: While expressing Universal Truth, a Custom or a Habit, a past tense in the principal clause may be followed by a simple present tense in the subordinate clause, as
I was told that earth revolves around the sun.
He learnt that Chinese women wear fine clothes.
Rule 3: In case of comparative sentences where the subordinate clause is introduced by “than”, the past tense in the principal clause can be followed by any tense in the subordinate clause, according to the sense intended, as
He liked you better than he likes me.
He likes you better than he liked me.
In cases where “as well as” is used instead of ‘than’, the same rule holds good.
Rule 4: When the subordinate clause begins with or is introduced by that, the following rules as observed:
a) If the principal clause uses past tense, the subordinate clause uses might before the verb (the actual verb is in the present tense because might is in past tense anyway). Example:
- I worked hard that I might win the prize.
- I was working hard that I might win the prize.
b) If the verb in the principal clause is in the present or future tense, the verb in the subordinate clause is expressed by ‘may’ (the actual verb remains in present tense and is preceded by ‘may’)
- I work hard that I may win the prize.
- I have worked hard that I may win the prize.
- I will have been working hard that I may win the prize.
c) If the conjunction introducing the subordinate clause is lest, the verb in the subordinate clause has should, irrespective of the tense of the verb in the principal clause. For example:
- He is careful lest he should fall. (He is careful that he may not fall)
- He was careful lest he should fall. (He was careful that he might not fall)
Now that we have learnt a few rules of grammar pertaining to the Sequence of Tenses, let us take a quick elementary take up. How well do you think you remember the rules? Of course you are free to scroll up and re-affirm. It is indeed an open book GMAT exercise.
The sentences are kept easy just to check if you know the rules correctly.
- Roger studied hard so that ____ (succeed)
- The judge declared that the thief ____ (guilty)
- The teacher explained that the sun ____ (rise) in the east.
- I waited for him until he ___ (come)
- Newton discovered that the force of gravity ____ (make) the apple fall.
- I believe that God ___ (be) everywhere.
- A great city once stood where now ___ (lie) the village.
- The witness affirms that the accused ___ (be) not guilty.
- The teacher thought that he ___ (fail).
There are various other grammar rules that you need to know to get the perfect score in GMAT sentence correction exercise. Click here to know about various tips to solve the verbal analysis section.