Quotes / Time-Travel Tense Trouble

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    Comic Books 

Well, um, thank you for unblocking my memory. You were... will be... very good friends to me.
Supergirl, Supergirl vol. #5, issue #22

Supragirl: Anyway, when the asteroid destroyed the school and gave everyone super powers, and Lena and Belinda were making everything crazy, I had to use the asteroid fragments to get time travel powers!
Supergirl: None of that ever happened!
Supragirl: That's because I'm on my way back in time to stop it from ever happening!
Supergirl: But... Why are you here?
Supragirl: I don't really know. All I know is what you told me...
Supergirl: What? I didn't...
Supragirl: Oh... You don't tell me about it until we meet in the 30th century. That's when I got this cool belt!
Supergirl: Right. And is that where you got the horse?
Supragirl: Comet? Oh yeah, he belongs to you in the future. You loaned him to me.

    Fan Works 

Shinji: You were right, this is really strange from the other side.
Daniel: You get used to it, Shinji. And technically, I will be right. I havenít said that yet. This is six months in my past, too.
A Crown of Stars, Chapter 1

"Months of treating you like crap... and you still wanted me." She sat down on the bench beside him. "And I wanted you. Couldn't admit it to myself, but I did. Do. Whatever fucking tense I should be using."

Harry's voice trailed off into the inadequacy of English.

Ten centuries in the future, this will happen. Let us say that it did happen, to make our story easier to relate.

She still had problems to play this charade in front of everyone, and it seemed to only grow harder. She wasn't sure if she would be able to keep it up much longer at all. Not while these thoughts disturbed her mind; thoughts of all the things that happened... or will happen soon.

    Film - Live-Action 

Doc Brown: (the DeLorean has just made the first time-jump) Ah! What did I tell you? 88 miles per hour! The temporal displacement occurred exactly 1:20 a.m. and zero seconds!
Marty McFly: Ah, Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ, Doc, you disintegrated Einstein!
Doc: Calm down, Marty. I didn't disintegrate anything. The molecular structure of both Einstein and the car are completely intact.
Marty: Then where the hell are they?!
Doc: The appropriate question is, "When the hell are they?" You see, Einstein has just become the world's first time traveler! I sent him into the future. One minute into the future to be exact. And at precisely 1:21 a.m. and zero seconds, we shall catch up with him and the time machine.

Can we get some food? I haven't eaten since later this afternoon.
Aaron, Primer

Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?!
Colonel Sandurz: Now. You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.
Dark Helmet: What happened to then?
Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now! We're at now, now.
Dark Helmet: Go back to then!
Colonel Sandurz: When?
Dark Helmet: Now.
Colonel Sandurz: Now?
Dark Helmet: Now!
Colonel Sandurz: I can't.
Dark Helmet: Why?
Colonel Sandurz: We missed it
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now.
Dark Helmet: When will then be now?
Colonel Sandurz: Soon!
Dark Helmet: ...how soon?


The major problem is quite simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner's Time Traveler's Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.
Most readers get as far as the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up; and in fact in later editions of the book all the pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.
The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstraction, pausing only to note that the term "Future Perfect" has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.

Ah, the benefits of foresight. Or was it hindsight? Language really wasn't designed with the possibility of time-travel in mind.

    Live-Action TV 

Sheldon: Wait, whoa whoa. Is "placed" right? Is "placed" the right tense for something that would have happened in the future of a past that was affected by something in the future?
Leonard: "Had will have placed?"
Sheldon: That's my boy.

Stephen Colbert: So, what did you have planned for us? How did that will go? I look backward to having seen it.
Jon Stewart: You're hurting my brain, Stephen.
Stephen Colbert: Come on, Jon! Don't you want people to have already watched your show?

The Doctor: What did I steal?
The TARDIS: Me. You're going to steal me, you have stolen me, you are stealing me. Oh, tenses are difficult.
Doctor Who "The Doctor's Wife"

Lister: We don't exist here anymore!
Kryten: Actually sir, we don't ever have existed here anymore, but this is hardly the time to be conjugating temporal verbs in the past impossible never tense!

Time travel. Ever since my first day in the job as a Starfleet Captain, I swore I'd never let myself get caught in one of these god-forsaken paradoxes. The future is the past, the past is the future. It all gives me a headache.
Capt. Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager, "Future's End"

    Video Games 

Robert Lutece: I told you they'd come.
Rosalind Lutece: No, you didn't.
Robert: Right. I was going to tell you they'd come.
Rosalind: But you didn't.
Robert: But I don't.
Rosalind: You sure that's right?
Robert: I was going to have told you they'd come?
Rosalind: No.
Robert: The subjunctive?
Rosalind: That's not the subjunctive.
Robert: I don't think the syntax has been invented yet.
Rosalind: It would have had to have had been.
Robert: "Had to have... had... been?" That can't be right.

Robert Lutece: If we could perceive time as it truly was—
Rosalind Lutece: —what reason would grammar professors have to get out of bed?

Spider-Man: O'Hara, can you do something to help me in the present?
Spider-Man 2099: Which present? Youíre in my present. You mean your past present or my present future?
Spider-Man: ...I hate you.

The Oni are split into nine houses. But we have told you the names of those houses already, sweetling. Or... we tell you in the future. You heard us say so in Tokyo. Or... you will hear us tell you there soon. Time is strange. Eh, sweetling?
The Buzzing, The Secret World

Oh God. Oh God. What tense is it written in? Oh God. Look, just read it to my colleague here. He'll give you your fee. I'll be over there when you're done.
The Admiralty Survey Office Clerk, on being given a port report on Irem, Sunless Sea


Utahraptor: ...I see. So if I said that nobody knows who the historical King Arthur is?
T-Rex: I'd say "that's me!" His exploits shall be going to have been being done by me!
Utahraptor: Future perfect continuous passive?
T-Rex: Ahem. Future perfect continuous passive, BITCHES.

It begins to dawn on you that everything you are about to do may prove to have been a colossal waste of time.

Funny, you didn't hear any commotion or gunplay. But it looks like there's already been some action in here. Or there will be. You can never take tense for granted with these goons.

    Web Original 

From there, we cut back to the year 3999, where Cable and Cable Jr... because APPARENTLY THERE WASNíT ENOUGH CONFUSING NONSENSE HAPPENING ALREADY. They are, of course, trying to kill Apocalypse before/after/during his plot to kidnap all the psychics, which may or may not have already succeeded/failed in the future that happened last week. So they need to steal a time machine.

Friggin' X-Men.
Chris Sims on X-Men, "Beyond Good And Evil, Part 2"

The Borg magic up a temporal vortex to travel back to the past, resulting in the present being altered so that the Earth looks like Al Gore's worst nightmare. The only option is to follow them through the space-time wardrobe and stop them from assimilating Earth in the past. Which turns out to be our future, or, at least, our future right now, or... carry the one... Later.

Carl Honduras: I ARE he! ...Only I'm from the future.
Minky Steve: You know, I think it's I AM he.
Carl Honduras: It's all this time travel; it makes me very confused as to which tense we should be using.
Minky Steve: There, there. It is very tricky.

    Real Life 

We in the trade call this "Excedrin Headache Number √-3.14159..."
Larry Niven, The Theory and Practice of Time Travel