Home  Grammar index  Spanish dictionary  Basic Spanish phrases  Translate  

The 'sequence of tenses' fallacy

Some grammars outline a so-called sequence of tenses (secuencia de tiempos in Spanish), dictating certain correspondences between the tense of the main clause (indicative) and that of the subordinate (subjunctive). In particular, it dictates that the past subjunctive occurs only in sentences whose main clause is not in the present or future, and similarly that the present subjunctive corresponds to a non-past tense in the main clause. The secuencia (and similar sequences have been proposed in other Romance languages) probably originated as more of a statistical observation but has been reproduced in supposedly prescriptive and descriptive texts alike1.

The problem with the "sequence of tenses" is that it's simply not true that tense patterns occur only in the dictated combinations. Even as a guide, it's not clear that the SOT approach makes a more accurate prediction than "use the tense that you'd logically expect to use". So, bar the odd exception that we mention in this grammar section, my general advice on deciding whether to use the present or past subjunctive is:

Use the tense that you'd logically expect to use!

1. For an example in an otherwise descriptive text, see Hualde, Olarrea & Escobar (2001), Introducción a la lingüística hispánica, CUP, p. 272.

comments powered by Disqus

 Español-Inglés home  Introduction to Spanish verbs  Spanish-English dictionary

Copyright © Javamex UK 2012. All rights reserved.