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 verb—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”