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.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has an amusing section on the problems associated with verb tenses when time travel is involved. It has several examples which appear to be constructed for their humorous sound instead of any attempt at sensible rules.

You can arrive (mayan arrivan on-when) for any sitting you like without prior (late fore-when) reservation because you can book retrospectively, as it were, when you return to your own time (you can have on-book haventa forewhen presooning returningwenta retrohome).

This TVTropes page has a list of where this trouble has been dealt with in various media, but none of them (as far as I can tell) are a serious attempt at laying out the rules.

Do you know of any reference where someone has laid out what various verb tenses would even be useful and/or named based on various points of view from a non-linear timeline between speaker and recipient who have experienced time differently?

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

A quick Google search turns up a couple of interesting attempts:

But of course I think the best way to address this is simply to wait. Once time travel is invented, people will fully sort it out and grow accustomed to it within a hundred years or so.

share|improve this answer
Wow; I normally consider myself adept at crafting search queries, and I performed about 10 and came up with nothing before asking the question. Well done! Oh, and I think that the fact that we are not already accustomed to it means that clearly time travel has never willn've'been invented. Right? :) –  Phrogz Jan 23 '11 at 0:34
Considering the nature of time travel... will that be a hundred years after or before? ;) –  Guffa Jan 23 '11 at 0:37
@Phrogz: Not necessarily. Those from the future may be unwilling or unable to travel farther back in time than the creation of the time machine, or if they do travel back to now, then they may carefully gauge their actions so as not to cause significant disturbance to our future. That is, their present. Ugh. –  Jon Purdy Jan 23 '11 at 0:44
Technically speaking, time travel has already occurred. Astronauts traveling at very fast speeds have returned to earth fractions of a second younger than their earth-bound counterparts. So, whenever we speak to an astronaut of this type, we must adjust our language to fit the relative time discrepancy because they have traveled from the past into our time. –  Paul Nov 3 '14 at 16:05

Those of me in the future werare frustrated with will havinged been seeing this question so many pastimeses. Please reallowed me two've preassisted you with some examples:

Subjective Present: He will have spoken

Subjective Past: He has spoken, but don't give your him guff if that instance of him doesn't remember saying it

Objective Past Perfect Progressive: He will have had been speaking- deal with it.

Hope this does haved helping.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


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.