Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Can you please help me with this thing called "sequence of verbs"? From what I'm understanding, if I use "would," I have to keep "would" throughout the sentence. Example: "I would go visit my cousin if he would come visit me as well."

But in a situation like my example below, is it okay not to keep the same tense throughout?

"I went to this store called 'K' yesterday."

"What kind of store was it?"

"It was a store that sells jewelry."

The last sentence is my question. I think I've heard people usually say "Yesterday, I went to a store that sold jewelry". But since I'm just explaining what kind of store it was/is, is it okay not to say "it was a store that sold jewelry"?

share|improve this question
3  
Your last sentence is OK, as is the present tense. I don't know where these rules come from. There's nothing like that in English grammar, but there are a lot of very silly textbooks out there with nonsense the authors made up themselves. They're just wrong. Sorry. Don't believe everything you read. –  John Lawler Apr 3 '13 at 2:21
    
It probably isn’t especially meaningful to speak of your “I would go visit my cousin if he would come visit me as well” example as being “in the same tense”, except perhaps pathologically. Those two different would instances are acting completely differently there, with the second being more a volitional thing, like “If you would please take your seats, we will get started.” –  tchrist Apr 3 '13 at 2:46
    
I should add that if you’re a Spanish speaker, Pato, and accustomed to its sort of sequence of tense “rules”, then these often fail to translate well between the two languages, and can often require recasting. For example, “If you would take your seats, we will get started” might become “Si os queréis sentar, podemos empezar”, and your original might well be “Visitaría a mi primo si me visitase a mí también”, which is more of a “I would visit my cousin if (only) he were to visit me, too” sort of thing. They just don’t always line up evenly. –  tchrist Apr 3 '13 at 3:08
    
Good question for ELL. ell.stackexchange.com –  Kris Apr 3 '13 at 5:18
add comment

2 Answers

There's really no rule that says you have to keep the same tense throughout a sentence. Watch this:

"I would go visit my cousin but I don't think he likes me."

"I would go visit my cousin when he gets home."

"I would go visit my cousin and eat ice cream."

You are probably using a "rule" that is really only a suggestion of where to start, as you learn to build a sentence. It shouldn't limit you; if anything, it should merely tell you, "here's a way to avoid going too far wrong at first; eventually as you learn the subtleties and complexities of constructing a sentence, you will recognize all the various alternative structures available to you."

And so, the last sentence in your set of three can be put into various other tenses, and various forms, such as:

"It's a store that will sell jewelry."

"A store that used to sell jewelry."

"It's a store that sells jewelry."

"A jewelry store."

Or pretty much anything else you want to say.

share|improve this answer
    
“It is a store that sold jewelry. It was a store that sold jewelry.” I can half-see why he wonders about “It was a store that sells jewelry”, but John thinks that one’s ok, too. –  tchrist Apr 3 '13 at 3:10
    
It was a store. It sold jewelry. Put them together and you get past tense throughout. But a store that sells jewelry (generic present tnse) is also a good description of what it was. It may still be such a store, for all I know, but I'm talking about an event in the past. –  John Lawler Apr 3 '13 at 15:00
    
I don't think your last paragraph is well explained: the first three phrases are all grammatical, but have different meanings, so to call them 'various forms of the same sentence' is misleading. –  TimLymington Jun 5 '13 at 14:20
    
@TimLymington I see your point, Tim, but I think you'll see mine if you put it back into context. The sentence you consider non-grammatical is utilized in conversation as an answer to the question, "What kind of store was it?" It is common to respond with a sentence fragment (which I accept as a conversational sentence) thus: "A jewelry store." I reread the paragraph you are criticizing, and I can't really find anything wrong with it. The whole question here relates to tense, so I'm simply giving examples of how essentially any tense can be made to work depending on the desired meaning. –  John M. Landsberg Jun 6 '13 at 7:10
    
I certainly don't consider the fourth ungrammatical; it can mean any of the preceding three, and so would be a good answer. Unfortunately, a beginner might take your paragraph to mean that the four are all grammatical (which they are) and interchangeable (which they aren't). –  TimLymington Jun 6 '13 at 8:46
add comment

In unplanned spoken utterances native speakers intuitively use the appropriate tense to convey a particular meaning or give a particular interpretation to something that happened.

If it is relevant that the shop still sells jewelry then the speaker would probably use the present tense. (The tense of verbs in the surrounding utterances is irrelevant.)

  • Yesterday I visited a shop that sells jewelry. You really should check it out.

Compare this with the following sentence using the past tense, where there is no present relevance, and the speaker cannot assume that the shop even exists anymore:

  • Last year on holiday I visited a shop that sold jewelry.

In the context of a narrative about yesterday where the fact that the shop still exists and sells jewelry can be expected but is not of particular importance, then it would be quite normal to say:

  • Yesterday I visited a shop that sold jewelry. Then I met a friend for lunch ... .

But it would be equally normal to say:

  • Yesterday I visited a shop that sells jewelry. Then I met a friend for lunch ... .
share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.