https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Rafforza

Italian Tense Cohesion

In some ways I've noticed Italian has a different relationship to verb tenses than English.

For example with "discorso indiretto" - for the past referring to the future. (i.e. She said he would arrive tomorrow.) < a statement in the past referring to the future, in italian it becomes:

  • Ha detto che lui sarebbe arrivato domani.

Using the past conditional instead of the simple conditional, it seems, so there's cohesion with the past verb tense of "dire".

Do expressions like the two below have this same cohesive nature?

  • "Si sa che.." (it's common knowledge that..)
  • "Dovrei intendere/assumere che.." (Am I to take it that..)

So if I talk about something in the past would I have to make these expressions correspond to the tenses of the statement? For example:

  • It's common knowledge that Kennedy was President in the 60's
  • Si sapeva che Kennedy e' stato il Presidente negli anni sessanti.
  • Am I to take it that you finished this yesterday?
  • Avrei dovuto assumere che l'hai finito ieri?

Nei due casi si sbaglia se si usa il presente?

June 25, 2017

7 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

In Italian, the tense agreement between verbs of the independent clause and of the subordinate clause work by fixed schemes, which are rather difficult because there is one main scheme for most types of subordinate clauses, but conditional clauses follow a scheme of their own, and indirect speech (which is a subordinate clause itself) follows the general scheme somewhat loosely, depending on the verb of the independent clause (see the last part of the relevant article in Treccani, from the line "In linea generale, un’interrogativa indiretta dipendente da uno dei verbi...", or from example no.73).

Here is a full table of tense agreements:

larger image

In some particular cases, other special agreements are possible, but these are the standard ones.


Ha detto che lui sarebbe arrivato domani.

The subordinate clause of this sentence is indirect speech, and the verb dire does not trigger the use of subjunctive (it does not infer any uncertainty, nor wish, nor personal judgement, nor command, etc.). So the standard general scheme of tense agreement is followed.
Being the time relation between the two clauses I → S (subordinate clause subsequent to the independent one), the correct agreement is:

(I) any past tense (Ha detto) + (S) past conditional (che sarebbe arrivato)

This agreement is commonly known as 'future in the past', and differs from the English scheme, which uses the present conditional instead of the past conditional:

  • (S) he said + (I) that he would arrive.

Si sa che...

This is an impersonal independent clause, which has no English equivalent, so it is translated with the standard passive voice ('it is known'), and che introduces a subjective clause, i.e. a clause that acts as a subject for the independent clause, in the same way as a noun would do:

  • Si sa che Kennedy è stato il presidente degli Stati Uniti. = It is known that Kennedy has been the president of the United States.

You can see how the subjective clause works more easily if it is placed before the verb:

  • that Kennedy has been the president of the United States [subj.clause] is known

It is basically the construction called passivating 'si' (see https://www.duolingo.com/comment/22549672 ), with the only difference that instead of a subject (i.e. a noun), the sentence has a subjective clause.

The verb sapere does not trigger the use of subjunctive. The general tense agreement scheme applies, so varying the time relation between the two clauses, valid agreements are:

  • (I ← S) Si sapeva che Kennedy era stato il presidente = I was known that Kennedy had been the president

  • (I = S) Si sapeva che Kennedy era il presidente = I was known that Kennedy was the president

  • (I → S) Si sapeva che Kennedy sarebbe stato il presidente = I was known that Kennedy would be the president

  • (I ← S) Si sa che Kennedy era stato il presidente = It is known that Kennedy had been the president

  • (I ← S) Si sa che Kennedy era / fu / è stato il presidente = It is known that Kennedy was the president

  • (I = S) Si sa che Kennedy è il presidente = It is known that Kennedy is the president

  • (I → S) Si sa che Kennedy sarà il presidente = It is known that Kennedy will be the president

A similar construction is taken by verbs such as pensare, immaginare, sostenere, leggere, etc.:

  • Si pensa che... = It is believed that...

  • Si immagina che... = It is believed that...

  • Si sostiene che... = It is claimed that...

  • Si legge che... = It is read that...


Dovrei intendere/assumere che...

Here we have a modal construction in the independent clause:

  • dovere (modal, inflected) + intendere (second verb, infinitive)

What accounts for the choice of indicative or subjunctive in the subordinate clause is the second verb (not the modal).
In this case, the second verb requires subjunctive, because 'to take / to believe' infers some residual doubt that what follows is reality:

  • Devo intendere che tu l'abbia finito ieri? = Am I to believe that you (have) finished it yesterday?

Agreements:

  • (I ← S) Dovevo intendere che tu l'avessi finito? = Were I to believe that you had finished it?

  • (I = S) Dovevo intendere che tu lo finissi? = Were I to believe that you would (soon) finish it? [see note]

  • (I = S) Dovevo intendere che tu l'avresti finito? = Were I to believe that you would finish it?

  • (I ← S) Devo intendere che tu l'avessi finito? = Am I to believe that you had finished it?

  • (I ← S) Devo intendere che tu l'abbia finito? = Were I to believe that you (have) finished it?

  • (I = S) Devo intendere che tu lo finisca? = Am I to believe that you will (soon) finish it? [see note]

  • (I → S) Devo intendere che tu lo finirai? = Am I to believe that you will finish it?

NOTE - When the first action (in this case, believing) takes place shortly before the second action (i.e. finishing), the time relation is dealt with as contemporary (→ present subjunctive). In English, instead, it is dealt with as subsequent (→ simple future).

Some speakers may consider intendere as a verb that does not require subjunctive (because whatever is believed is not doubtful). So this is a borderline case of the subjunctive rule.
For instance, it would also be possible to say:

  • (I ← S) Dovevo intendere che tu l'avevi finito? = Were I to believe that you had finished it?

  • (I ← S) Devo intendere che tu l'hai finito? = Am I to believe that you (have) finished it?

etc. etc.

Whenever in doubt about this rule, it is advisable to use subjunctive.

When the conditional mood is used in place of indicative mood, usually to soften the statement or the question, the same agreement is used:

  • (I ← S) Avrei dovuto intendere che tu l'avessi finito? = Were I to believe that you had finished it?

  • (I = S) Avrei dovuto intendere che tu lo finissi? = Were I to believe that you would finish it? [see previous note]

  • (I → S) Avrei dovuto intendere che tu l'avresti finito? = Were I to believe that you would finish it?

  • (I ← S) Dovrei intendere che tu l'avessi finito? = Am I to believe that you had finished it?

  • (I ← S) Dovrei intendere che tu l'abbia finito? = Am I to believe that you (have) finished it?

  • (I = S) Dovrei intendere che tu lo finisca? = Am I to believe that you will finish it? [see previous note]

  • (I → S) Dovrei intendere che tu lo finirai? = Am I to believe that you will finish it?

June 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Zig_Zag_Wanderer

This is amazing stuff, many thanks.

It also makes me understand why my French stalled after a year or so living there. It's all so complicated! I hope I can overcome that issue this time. Unfortunately it all makes me so tense! (sorry, couldn't resist!)

June 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

You are welcome.
Tense agreement is indeed a complicated topic, and should be approached no sooner than having reached a medium-advanced level of knowledge of the language, as it requires a good grasp of all tenses (especially indicative and subjunctive ones).
But it most cases the tenses used in English correspond to the Italian ones, so this should make the approach easier.

June 26, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Rafforza

Wow CR, hai superato le mie più audaci aspettative! ! Grazie mille

June 26, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CivisRomanus

Prego, non c'è di che.

June 27, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Catia586704

Non lo so... Scusa

June 25, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Catia586704

I dont know sorry

June 25, 2017
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