1

In the book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams attempts to lay out the basics of which tense to use when describing time travel:

In it guests take (willan on-take) their places at the table and eat (willan on-eat) sumptuous meals whilst watching (willing watchen) the whole of creation explode around them. (source)

I don't really understand his rules, and I doubt that Adams did too, but how do you correctly describe time travel?

For example, what is the correct grammar for this:

Winston, from the year 1984, went to the year 3001 and bought a hoverboard.

Where Winston, in 1984 travelled forward in time to the year 3001, bought the hoverboard and then travelled back in time to 1984.

closed as primarily opinion-based by tchrist, Robusto, FumbleFingers, Edwin Ashworth, Hellion Aug 24 '15 at 18:48

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 6
    The grammar for this will not be invented until 2672. Perhaps somebody with a time machine can tell us what the rules will then say. – TimLymington Aug 22 '15 at 12:44
  • @TimLymington Wow, that's very accurate :D – Beta Decay Aug 22 '15 at 12:47
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it asks for a logical approach to a question intrinsically unanswerable. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 22 '15 at 15:30
3

I don't see a problem. We always speak from our own point of view. For example,

"The Mona Lisa is here." means that the portrait is close to our current location.

"The Mona Lisa is there." means that it is distant from our current location.

In the same way, when we have time travel, we will speak from our present location in time.

Examples

Speaking in 1960 - Winston, from the year 1984, will go to the year 3001 and buy a hoverboard.

Speaking in 1984 - Winston, from the year 1984, has gone to the year 3001 to buy a hoverboard.

Speaking in 2015 - Winston, from the year 1984, went to the year 3001 and bought a hoverboard.

Speaking in 3001 - Winston, from the year 1984, came to the year 3001 and bought a hoverboard.

Speaking in 3212 - Winston, from the year 1984, went to the year 3001 and bought a hoverboard.

The vital verb is 'to go'. It refers to leaving and therefore the time of leaving. If you use 'come' then it refers to the time of arrival.

  • You have not, alas, addressed the problem of using 'bought' (past) to refer to an action 1000 years or more in the future. – TimLymington Aug 22 '15 at 16:59
  • 1
    @TimLymington - I disagree. You can see that "to buy" always matches the tense of "to go" in my examples. – chasly from UK Aug 22 '15 at 17:04
0

Winston, from the year 1984, went to the year 3001 and bought a hoverboard.

If you're talking about Winston Smith (1984) however, you change the context of the question. As far as fiction goes, the complete range of events narrated the book is deemed to have already occurred (the book having already been written). It's therefore perfectly OK to use the past tense to talk about events that have happened in the novel, even if they take place in a (fictitious) future time (from our point of view).

More than this, though, it's conventional when reviewing a novel, to use the present tense:

Winston goes to the year 3001 and buys a hoverboard.

  • I used Winston as an example, it was supposed to be a semi-humourous reference :) – Beta Decay Aug 22 '15 at 16:22

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.