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Consecutio Temporum (indicative, subjunctive, conditional)

You don’t know which tense to use, do you? You would like to know, once and for all, if you need to use the past, the present or the future, wouldn’t you? Find out how to match the various Italian verbal tenses and moods thanks to this awesome lesson about the so-called consecutio temporum!

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CONSECUTIO TEMPORUM – How to Match Tenses

The label “consecutio temporum” means the match of verbal tenses between the main clause and the subordinate clause.

In order to find the right verbal tense in the subordinate clause, you need to know 3 elements:

  • what supports the verb of the main clause (indicative or subjunctive → if you have any doubt about subjunctive, don’t miss our lessons about how to use it and how NOT to use it!)
  • tense and mood of the verb in the main clause
  • time relationship you want to give (anteriority, contemporaneity, posteriority)

 

Let’s see all the possible cases…

Main clause Subordinate clause RELATIONSHIP
So che… sei stato bravo (passato prossimo)1  ANTERIORITY
So che… sei bravo (present CONTEMPORANEITY
So che… sarai bravo (simple future POSTERIORITY 

1) In this case, the verb of the main clause (“sapere” → to know) supports the indicative and it’s in the present tense, therefore the time relationship with the verb of the subordinate clause will be in relation to the present:

  • if you want to express an action occurred before the present, you must use the passato prossimo (anteriority)
  • if you want to express an action occurred always in the present, you must use the present (contemporaneity)
  • if you want to express an action that still has to occur, you must use the simple future (posteriority)

 

Main clause Subordinate clause RELATIONSHIP 
Credo che… … tu sia stato bravo (past subjunctive)2 ANTERIORITY
Credo che… … tu sia bravo (present subjunctive) CONTEMPORANEITY
Credo che… sarai bravo (simple future indicative!) POSTERIORITY

2) In this case, the verb of the main clause (“credere” → to believe) supports the subjunctive and it’s in the present tense, therefore the time relationship with the verb of the subordinate clause will be in relation to the present:

  • if you want to express an action occurred before the present, you must use the past subjunctive (anteriority)
  • if you want to express an action occurred always in the present, you must use the present subjunctive (contemporaneity)
  • if you want to express an action that still has to occur, you must use the simple future indicative (posteriority), as the subjunctive has no future tense!

 

Main clause Subordinate clause RELATIONSHIP
Sapevo che… eri andato a Roma (trapassato prossimo) ANTERIORITY
Sapevo che… andavi a Roma (imperfect) CONTEMPORANEITY
Sapevo che… saresti andato a Roma (past conditional!) POSTERIORITY

3) In this case, the verb of the main clause (“sapere” → to know) supports the indicative and it’s in the imperfect tense (= past tense), therefore the time relationship with the verb of the subordinate clause will be in relation to the past:

  • if you want to express an action occurred even before in the past with respect to the past of the main clause, you must use the trapassato prossimo (anteriority)
  • if you want to express an action occurred in the same past, you must use the imperfect (contemporaneity)
  • if you want to express a future action with respect to the past I am speaking in, you must use the past conditional (posteriority)

 

Main clause Subordinate clause RELATIONSHIP
Credevo che… … tu fossi andato a Roma (trapassato subjunctive) ANTERIORITY
Credevo che… … tu andassi a Roma (imperfect subjunctive) CONTEMPORANEITY
Credevo che… saresti andato a Roma (past conditional!) POSTERIORITY

4) In this case, the verb of the main clause (“credere” → to believe) supports the subjunctive and it’s in the imperfect tense (= past tense), therefore the time relationship with the verb of the subordinate clause will be in relation to the past:

  • if you want to express an action occurred even before in the past with respect to the past of the main clause, you must use the trapassato subjunctive (anteriority)
  • if you want to express an action occurred in the same past, you must use the imperfect subjunctive (contemporaneity)
  • if you want to express a future action with respect to the past I am speaking in, you must use the past conditional (posteriority), exactly like in the case 3

 

What happens, instead, when the mood of the main clause is conditional

Main clause Subordinate clause RELATIONSHIP
Vorrei che … … tu fossi stato più buono (trapassato subjunctive) ANTERIORITY

 

Main clause Subordinate clause RELATIONSHIP
Vorrei che … … tu fossi più buono (imperfect subjunctive) CONTEMPORANEITY

POSTERIORITY

5) In this case, the verb of the main clause (“volere” → to want) supports the subjunctive and it’s in the present conditional, therefore the time relationship with the verb of the subordinate clause will be in relation to the present:

  • if you want to express an action occurred before the present, you must use the trapassato subjunctive (anteriority)
  • if you want to express an action occurred always in the present, you must use the imperfect (and not the present!!) subjunctive(contemporaneity)
  • if you want to express an action that still has to occur, you must use the imperfect subjunctive (posteriority)

For this reason, in order to distinguish the contemporaneity from the posteriority, you have to consider the context

 

Main clause Subordinate clause RELATIOSHIP
Avrei voluto che … … tu fossi stato più buono (trapassato subjunctive) ANTERIORITY

CONTEMPORANEITY

POSTERIORITY

6) In this case, the verb of the main clause (“volere” → to want) supports the subjunctive and it’s in the past conditional, therefore the time relationship with the verb of the subordinate clause will be in relation to the past:

  • if you want to express an action occurred even before in the past with respect to the past of the main clause, you must use the trapassato subjunctive (anteriority)
  • if you want to express an action occurred in the same past, you must use the trapassato subjunctive (contemporaneity)
  • if you want to express a future action with respect to the past I am speaking in, you must use the trapassato subjunctive (posteriority)

In other words… For contemporaneity, as well as for anteriority and posteriority, when in the main clause there’s a verb in the past conditional, you have to use the same tense (trapassato subjunctive). Therefore, in order to distinguish the time relationship you have to consider the context

 

BE CAREFUL! 

In order to express ANTERIORITY and CONTEMPORANEITY (in relation to both present and past), all of this doesn’t apply if the subject of the main clause and the subject of the subordinate clause are the same

In this case, you must use the infinitive

Examples:

Io so che io sono bravo → So di essere bravo. (I know I am good)

Io credo che io sia bravo → Credo di essere bravo. (I think I am good)

Io sapevo che io ero bravo → Sapevo di essere bravo. (I knew I was good)

Io credevo che io fossi bravo → Credevo di essere bravo. (I thought I was good)

 

Io so che io sono stato bravo  → So di essere stato bravo. (I know I have been good)

Io credo che io sia stato bravo → Credo di essere stato bravo. (I think I have been good)

Io sapevo che io ero stato bravo → Sapevo di essere stato bravo. (I knew I had been good)

Io credevo che io fossi stato bravo → Credevo di essere stato bravo. (I thought I had been good)

 

BUT!!

In order to express POSTERIORITY (in relation to both present and past), the infinitive doesn’t work, even though the subject is the same → therefore you must follow the tense rules considered before. 

Examples:

Io so che io sarò bravo (I know I will be good)

Io credo che io sarò bravo (I think I will be good)

 

Io sapevo che io sarei stato bravo (I knew I would be good)

Io credevo che io sarei stato bravo (I thought I would be good)

Do you already know indirect speech in Italian?

Vediamo se hai appreso i contenuti di questa lezione! Prova a fare gli esercizi!

So benissimo che Luigi non ____ alla festa ieri sera!
Il giorno che andrò a Roma, sono sicuro che ____ il Pantheon!
Penso che ieri Marco ____ a mangiare dai suoi suoceri
Siccome non ____ nulla da mangiare, sono scesi a fare la spesa!
Non credo che tu ____ il ragazzo più carino della classe!
Il presidente pensa che domani ____ le sue dimissioni!
Sapevo bene che non ti ____ il teatro: per questo ieri non ti ho comprato i biglietti!
Ero sicuro che ti ____ quel posto di lavoro: lo meritavi!
Credevo che tu ____ al ristorante: ecco perché non ho cucinato!
Cosa esprime la seguente frase: Vorrei che fossimo stati più ricchi!

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