Infographic showing the difference between sentences two past clauses and sentences with one nonpast subordinate clause. Left column: {tabako wo sutte-ita} otoko wo mita タバコを吸っていた男を見た, "I saw a man who {was smoking}," has by default a shifted interpretation, in which I saw a man who had already finished smoking. By contrast, {tabako wo sutte-iru} otoko wo mita タバコを吸っている男を見た, same English translation, has by default a simultaneous interpretation, in which the man was smoking when I saw him. Besides these, there are parallel interpretation for each which can occur "right now" for nonpast, or at any point in the past for past tense. These require further context or temporal adverbs.


An infographic comparing differences between the sequence of tenses—the relationship between tense and temporal reference of a subordinate clause and its matrix clause—of English and Japanese.

Relevant Articles

  • Tenses have to do with the expression of time.

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