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Sequence of Tenses in Indirect Discourse

Subject Accusative Plus the Infinitive

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Sequence of Tenses in Indirect Discourse

Sequence of Tenses

In English, you know it's indirect discourse when you see the word "that" instead of quotation marks.

Example #1

He says (that) you have come. [Indirect]
He says, "You have come." [Direct]

You don't have that in Latin. Instead you have infinitives and accusative cases to work out. They are used after verbs of saying, knowing, thinking, feeling, etc. -- together known as indirect discourse.

In Latin, we write indirect discourse with:
  1. the accusative of the subject of the indirect speech plus
  2. the infinitive for its verb.

In Example #1, the word after "that" is you. That "you" is the subject of the indirect speech and therefore would be in the accusative case; its verb, "have come," would be an infinitive.

Latin infinitives have tenses. What tense the infinitive will be depends on what it is expressing and when the main verb, the saying, knowing, thinking, feeling, etc., occurred relative to it. This is called sequence of tenses. Because of rules about the sequence of tenses, the infinitive will be in the same tense as the main verb or a different one, depending on when it happens.

  • If the infinitive happens at the same time as the main verb, the infinitive is in the present tense.

Example #2

Dicit se venire - He says that he is coming.
Dixerunt eum iuvare eam - They said that he/she was helping her/him.
  • If the infinitive happens before the main verb, the infinitive is in the perfect tense.

Exampls #3

Dicit se venisse - He says that he has come.
Dixerunt eum iuvisse eam - They said that he/she had helped her/him.
  • If the infinitive will happen after the main verb, the infinitive is in the future.

Example #4

Dicit se venturum esse - He says that he will come.
Dicent eum iuturum esse eam- They will say that he/she will help her/him.

Index of Quick Tips on Latin Verbs

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