Tense agreement

Tense agreement (also known as tense harmony or sequence of tenses) occurs in a sentence that contains two separate verb forms describing an event, action or state. One verb form, as either a subordinate clause or a nonfinite or deverbal phrase, is embedded in a main clause[1], and the predicate verb of the main clause often expresses direct or indirect quotation, knowledge, feeling, or sensing. Examples may include said, knew, heard, or felt. The embedded clause or phrase generally contains a statement, expressed by a dependent predicate as its verbal head, and the verb may be finite or nonfinite.

Tense agreement is a grammatical strategy to express relative temporal deixis (contemporaneity or antecedence). It is present when the tense of the embedded clause or phrase is restricted based on the tense of the main predicate. This parameter deals specifically with agreement of tense, rather than mood, aspect, or voice. To determine whether the main clause restricts the marking of tense within the embedded clause or phrase, the latter should be compared to the form in which it would appear as an independent clause.


NoTense: Tense agreement is not a relevant parameter; the language does not have tense.[2]

NoDepTense: The tense of the dependent predicate does not depend on the tense of the main predicate; it appears in the same tense as it would in an independent clause (natural tense).

DepTense: The tense of the dependent predicate depends on the tense of the main predicate.

When a language displays more than one type, two values can be listed. If one type is dominant, a slash (/) can separate the two values, with the dominant value appearing first; if neither is dominant, they are listed with an ampersand (&) separating the two. Parentheses indicates that the type appears optionally.[3]


[1] The main verb must be a lexical verb and cannot function as an auxiliary.

[2] This includes cases in which the dependent predicate appears in a verb form that cannot be marked for tense.

[3] For example, DepTense/(NoDepTense) refers to a language in which the standard is tense agreement, but there are certain circumstances in which tense agreement is not required. Any optional use should be detailed in the commentary.