So I was watching an episode of the TV show Big Bang Theory and the characters where talking about tenses in regard to the movie Back to the Future II. They said this:

Leonard: If future Biff goes back to 2015 right after he gives young Biff the Almanac, he could get back to the 2015 with Marty and Doc in it. Because it wasn’t until his 21st birthday that 1955 Biff placed his first bet.

Sheldon: But whoa, whoa. Is placed right?

Leonard: What do you mean?

Sheldon: Is placed the right tense for something that would’ve happened in the future of a past that was affected by something from the future?

Leonard: [thinks] Had will have placed?

Sheldon: That’s my boy.

My question is:

Is this grammatically correct to say Had will have placed in this situation?

I think it was called the back to the future episode.

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    This scene was such a play on word tense that I doubt it would make a meaningful example for learning English. BYW, you should add a citation for the show name and episode (if you know them) for reference. – user3169 Jan 28 '15 at 19:24
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    This is a minor trope in sci-fi relating to time travel – eques Jan 28 '15 at 19:55
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    Is it grammatically correct? It doesn't matter; it was intended to be funny, not grammatically correct. It's worth mentioning that Sheldon's character is known for making brainy, idiosyncratic remarks. – J.R. Jan 28 '15 at 20:04
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    The fact that English tenses are not capable of properly handling time travel is a common humour trope in discussions about science fiction, yes. – Stephen Dunscombe Jan 29 '15 at 2:47
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    It's like the tourist who visits Boston, once famous for its fishing fleet; he asks the cabbie where he could get scrod. The cabbie replies that he's never heard anyone ask for that in the pluperfect subjunctive. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 29 '15 at 20:50

This is mainly a joke. There isn't a real tense in English to say "something that would’ve happened in the future of a past that was affected by something from the future," probably because no one has ever encountered such a situation. There's no grammatically correct way to combine tenses in this way.

If I had to make an actual "correct" sentence for this, I would say something like, "But it wasn't until his 21st birthday that 1955 Biff would have placed his first bet in that timeline." But again, there aren't really any rules in grammar about how to talk about time travel. If there were, maybe we had will could have used them.

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Here's our scenario:

  1. Past A leads into Future A
  2. Future A changes its past into Past B
  3. Past B leads into Future B
  4. We're in Present C

So we're talking about a hypothetical future that won't happen. Which means we can use the conditional perfect tense, 'would have'.

Because it wasn’t until his 21st birthday that 1955 Biff would've placed his first bet.

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