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Sequence of Tenses

In the discussion of indirect statement in Unit 25, there was a certain emphasis on following a sequence of tenses when translating the accusative infinitive structure. Similarly in subjunctive constructions, both in Latin and English, a system of sequence of tenses exists when a speaker or writer proceeds from a main clause into a subordinate clause.  Understanding of these sequences is imperative in order to successfully compose Latin sentences.

Latin has two sequences:

  • Primary
  • Secondary/
  • Historical

For most scenarios in Latin, the rules are such: A primary tense main verb is followed by a primary tense subjunctive subordinate verb

A secondary tense main verb is followed by a

secondary tense subjunctive subordinate verb.

Each of these sequences is futher sub-divided into two categories based on the time relationship between the main clause and the subordinate clause. The action of the subordinate clause can either be contemporary to the action of the main verb or occur prior to that action.

Observe the chart below:

SequenceMain verbSubordinate Subjunctive




future perfect

present (time same/time contemporary)

perfect (time prior/time after)





imperfect (time same/time contemporary)

pluperfect (time prior/time after)

*Note that the perfect tense may be considered a tense in primary sequence (a present perfect:  I have done this) or a secondary tense (a simple past:  I did this).