As you know, there are 3 tenses in English grammar, but when it comes to 'I was in the future in the past with a time machine,' there's no tense indicating past and future in English. Though, why do people use a tense of a bigger category, in this case, the past tense.

2 Answers 2


Douglas Adams, the comedy science-fiction writer makes a joke in one of his books that the biggest problem with time-travel is not the paradoxes if you go back and sleeping with your grandmother, but simply one of grammar. He then goes on to make up several imaginary tenses for time traveller such as the "Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional".

This is of course a joke.

We don't have tenses to deal with time travel because it doesn't happen. Tenses developed because it is useful to distinguish "I eat" from "I ate" and one way to do this is to modify the verb. There is no need to distinguish between "I ate (yesterday in my time-line but tomorrow in yours) because no human has ever actually been in that situation. So Adams's joke tenses, like "willan on-eat" for example are not needed.

In your particular example, people tend to describe their own actions and experiences along their own timeline, so

Yesterday I visited the year 2050 and ate space-chicken. Aliens had invaded in 2040 and the President was an insect.

But events that are not their actions or experiences using the general time-line

Yesterday I visited the year 2050. I learned that there will be an alien invasion in 2040.

Adams makes one further joke. As a result of time-travel, the "future perfect" has been abandoned, as it was discovered that it isn't.

Adams Quote

TV Tropes warning


If you are speaking of your experience, as you are in your example, that is in your past, regardless where your experience lies in the space-time continuum.

(Except, if you can jump around in it, it's actually an imaginary discontinuum. Should English have special tenses for imaginary states? Does your native language have anything like that?)

  • No, there's no such a tense in Korean too, but it's ungrammatical...
    – yourfriend
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 11:47

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