Sequence-of-tense and the features of finite tenses


  • Karen Zagona University of Washington



tense, sequence of tense, modality, force, agreement


Sequence-of-tense (SOT) is often described as a (past) tense verb form that does not correspond to a semantically interpretable tense. Since SOT clauses behave in other respects like finite clauses, the question arises as to whether the syntactic category Tense has to be distinguished from the functional category tense.  I claim that SOT clauses do in fact contain interpretable PRESENT tense.  The “past” form is analyzed as a manifestation of agreement with the (matrix past) controller of the SOT clause evaluation time.  One implication of this analysis is that finite verb forms should be analyzed as representing features that correspond to functional categories higher in clause structure, including those of the clausal left periphery. SOT morphology then sheds light on the existence of a series of finer-grained functional heads that contribute to tense construal, and to verbal paradigms. These include Tense, Modality and Force.