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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?

5 Answers 5

12

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.

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  • 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, 2011 at 0:34
  • 1
    Considering the nature of time travel... will that be a hundred years after or before? ;)
    – Guffa
    Jan 23, 2011 at 0:37
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    @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, 2011 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, 2014 at 16:05
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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.

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Pasts

  • I had had An event occurring prior to the jump.
  • I had An event occurring at the moment of the jump.
  • I had will have An event occurring after the jump, before now.

Futures

  • I will have had An event occurring prior to the jump, after now.
  • I will have An event occurring at the moment of the jump.
  • I will will have An event occurring after the jump.

Full documentation: http://wiki.xxiivv.com/Time+travel+conjugation

2

Seems most cases can be addressed by going in the following order: Speaker's time line, listeners time line, any absolute time reference.

  1. Past past past (ppp): I already did that yesterday
  2. ppf: I already did that tomorrow
  3. pfp: I already will do that yesterday
  4. fpp: I expect to have already done that yesterday
  5. pff: I already will have done that tomorrow
  6. fpf: I expect to have already done that tomorrow
  7. ffp: I expect I will do that yesterday
  8. fff: I expect I will do that tomorrow

this assumes both are speaking from the same timeline. For asynchronous communication, it can be prefaced with an indicator: As of yesterday, I already will have done that tomorrow. A note from a future speaker indicates that in the listeners' future, the speaker's past will have done an action in the absolute future.

1

Actually, you only need a standard reference on verbal syntax and semantics, be it English or some other language, since the case is already accounted for in language.

The future perfect tense is specifically crafted for this, as it relates to actions already on-going and/or completed from the vantage point of some time in the future. The reference point is taken with respect to the present, relative to which the action lies in the future. If anything, it is especially suited for time travelers from the future since they (more than anyone else) actually do have a future vantage point to speak directly in terms of. So, if you were born in 2200 and you traveled back to 2020, then you would say "I will have been born in the year 2200". That makes it already-finished from the perspective of, say, 2220 ... which would also happen to be your perspective, if you were 20 when you went back to 2020.

If they were on-going when you jumped back, they would be the future perfect continuous. So, you could also be using "will have been doing X", for things left unfinished or in-progress when you jumped back.

The reference time for verb tenses is generally understood to be that of the world at large, regardless of where you (the speaker) situate yourself. So, if your yesterday is our tomorrow, then your events are in the future perfect, until you return back to the future, after which they become the perfect.

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