The Sequence of Tenses in Reported Speech

strips of paper with the names of different English verb tenses written on them

In every language, there is a grammatical rule that is so embedded into the language that its native speakers are barely aware of it, even as non-native students of the language struggle to master it.

When I studied abroad in the Soviet Union,1Younger readers, ask your parents; it was a country more or less where Russia is now. I remember having a conversation with some Russian friends about the challenges of learning each other’s languages. “What’s the hardest thing about Russian grammar?” one of my friends asked me. “Oh, that’s easy,” I answered. “Verbs of motion.” (I even said this in Russian.)

“Verbs of what?” came my friend’s confused reply. He had never even heard of this category of verbβ€”a category that bedevils students of Russian to this day. I explained what I was talking about, but it was clear that he was still mystified.

“Your turn,” I said. “What’s the hardest thing about English?”

“Sequence of tenses,” he said. In English.

“Sequence of what?” I replied.

Continue reading “The Sequence of Tenses in Reported Speech”