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The tense for a conjunctive predicate in a subordinate clause can be chosen following the consecutio temporum rule. The tense depends on the tense of the main clause. But how to choose the tense when the clause is subordinate to an accusativus com infinitivo structure?

For example, should "I think you knew what my name is" be translated as

  • Puto te scivisse quid sit nomen meum (where sit follows the tense of puto) or
  • Puto te scivisse quid esset nomen meum (where esset follows the tense of scivisse)?
  • For what it's worth, as a native English speaker I hear "I think you knew what my name is" as ungrammatical. (You may also be a native English speaker, and we may just have different idiolects.) – Joel Derfner Mar 1 '16 at 17:30
  • @JoelDerfner, I'm not a native English speaker, so I might get my English consecutio temporum wrong occasionally. The sentence sounds fine to me, but did also think about "I think you knew what my name was". I assume the name has always been the same so present tense should work, but I'm not familiar with the finest points of English grammar. Anyway, I hope I got my message across. Maybe I should ask about this subtlety at one of the English language SE sites... – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 1 '16 at 18:58
  • Sequence of tenses often trips up English speakers (myself included), so you're in excellent company. I also don't hear this as hugely wrong—it just sounds a little weird. I suppose the logic would be that there was no way anybody could have known for certain then what my name would be *now*—what if I changed it five minutes ago?—but logic doesn't often take one very far where language is concerned. – Joel Derfner Mar 1 '16 at 19:03
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When a clause is subordinate to a nominal form of a verb (anything that does not have a grammatical person), the conjunctive predicate of the subordinate clause follows the predicate verb of its main clause, not the nominal form.

For example: Me adiit mirans, cur Graeci sic loquerent. (Here loqui follows adire, not mirari.)

There is, however, an exception: If the clause is subordinate to a perfect infinitive, then the main clause is considered to be past tense from the point of view of consecutio temporum — no matter what the predicate verb of the main clause does.

The example in the question falls in this exceptional category, the correct choice is the second one: Puto te scivisse quid esset nomen meum.

The exception only concerns the perfect infinitive, so this would also be grammatical (although it expresses a different thing): Putabam te scire quid esset nomen meum.

This rule covers all clauses subordinate to a nominal form, be it ACI or something else. I understand this to include participles as well, as long as they are not part of a passive personal expression. (That is, this would be wrong because the participle forms a personal form with esse: Miratus sum, cur ita sit. Although sum is present tense, the whole verb is really miratus sum and has past tense. Therefore we should have esset.)

Therefore I would say, for example: Caesare mirato, ubi sint milites, narrabimus ei de bello. "After Caesar has wondered where the soldiers are, we will tell him about the war." Since the nominal form is not a perfect infinitive and the predicate of the main clause is in the future tense, the subordinate predicate is sint, not essent. This example is artificial, and I would like to see a classical example to be sure.

This answer is based on Ars Grammatica by Tuomo Pekkanen (in Finnish). If anyone can find other sources that are easier to find and read for the majority of users, let me know. The book gives these examples which turn out to be from Cicero:

  • [Cato] mirari se aiebat, quod non rideret haruspex, haruspicem cum vidisset. (De divinatione II.51)
  • Satis mihi multa verba fecisse videor, qua re esset hoc bellum (…) necessarium. (De imperio Cn. Pompei)

Oh, and it should go without mention that this rule is subject to the usual exceptions to consecutio temporum. In particular, if a perfect tense is semantically present tense (novisse or oblitus, for example), then it may be regarded as present tense in a main clause.

  • How about if you have a subordinate clause that depends on a past participle (not an a.c.i.)? Does the same rule applies as for perfect infinitives? – Cerberus Mar 1 '16 at 17:12
  • @Cerberus, the grammar says that this applies to all nominal forms. That includes participles, but the exception is only for perfect infinitives, not perfect participles. I expanded my answer. – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 1 '16 at 18:50
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    @Nathaniel, I added the grammar book and two quotes from Cicero. (And I removed an obsolete comment.) I also expanded a bit to answer another comment. – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 1 '16 at 18:51

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