Tenses in subordinate clauses
A subordinate clause is a dependent clause that needs to be attached to an independent or main clause.
Generally speaking, when the verb in the main clause is in the past tense, the verb in the subordinate clause will also be in the past tense. Study the examples given below.
- The teacher asked the boy if he had done his homework.
Here the main verb (asked) is in the past tense and therefore the verb in the subordinate clause (had done) should also be in the past tense.
- She said that she would help. (NOT She said that she will help.)
- The doctor suggested that he should take a break. (NOT The doctor suggested that he shall take a break.)
- She asked whether we had a job for her. (NOT She asked whether we have a job for her.)
- We started early so that we wouldn’t miss the train. (NOT We started early so that we will not miss the train.)
- The teacher punished the boy because he hadn’t done his homework. (NOT The teacher punished the boy because he hasn’t done his homework.)
When the verb in the main clause is in the present or future tense, the verb in the subordinate clause can be in any tense.
- She says that she was interested in the proposal.
Here the verb in the main clause is in the simple present tense whereas the verb in the subordinate clause is in the simple past (passive) tense.
- She says that she is interested in the proposal.
- She says that he will be interested in the proposal.
- She will ask if we have got anything for her.
Which tense you use in the subordinate clause depends upon the meaning you want to convey.
- How to use tenses correctly in your IELTS essays and letters?
- Identify the subordinate clauses
- Common mistakes with verbs
- If-clauses exercise
- Expressing condition using if-clauses
- Common mistakes with simple present and present perfect tenses
- Common mistakes in the use of if-clauses
- When to use the present tense instead of the future tense?
- Past tenses with present meaning