Tenses in English give much more information than just time. There many six different ways to discuss the future, and each of these gives a different message. For example, you will see that we can use a future tense to discuss the present, or we can use the present tense to discuss the future, or sometimes we can use a mixture of present and future tenses together. We can also use the present continuous, two types of future indicator, and the indicative and subjunctive voices.
So are you still sure that you understand how to use the future?
In this section we look at :
Present time use of future
Simple future. This is the future with 'will' or 'shall'.
Will or shall?
This is a question which even confuses many English speakers. In many situations it does not matter which one you use. You can use 'shall' in the to show determination, or strong volition, or to give orders.
It may be difficult, but I shall not miss the opportunity.
Students shall not talk during the exam.
Or it can be used to make predictions.
In five years I shall speak perfect English.
You shall be rich, happy and fortunate.
It is generally used when suggesting future actions.
'Shall we go to the cinema tonight?'
Use of the Simple Future
The simple future is often used for statements about the future. These usually have an explicit or implied temporal indicator.
'In three minutes it will be six o'clock.'
'I will be at the party (tonight).'
It is also used for spontaneous decisions.
'I think I will have a pizza for supper.'
'Are you going to the shops? I'll come with you.'
It can also be used to show that a decision is not going to be changed.
'I will marry Jim, and there is nothing that can stop me!'
The simple future can be used to give orders (also see compulsion below). In these sentences, 'will' is stressed, and not shortened. (i.e. not 'you'll, he'll etc.')
'The tank regiment will advance and capture that hill'
'You will go to Mrs Jones tomorrow and apologise.'
When you talk about something which has been arranged, but not yet done, you use a present continuous. This is best explained by the fact that you could say that something starts to happen the moment you have started to happen (e.g. your holiday begins as soon as you have booked the tickets). Note that if you use a present continuous you have to use a temporal indicator to show that is is not happening now.
'I am playing cricket.' (I am speaking to you as the game is going on.)
'I am playing cricket next Wednesday.' (I have arranged a game of cricket for later in the week.)
Consider this discussion in a restaurant to contrast the Simple Future and the Arranged Future.
'I think I will have the fish.' (I have just seen it on the menu and made a spontaneous decision.)
'I am having the duck.' (I decided what I was going to eat a while ago - in fact I have already ordered.)
Also called the 'going to' future. We use this when we have looked at the things we can see now, and we use them to make a prediction about the future.
'It's going to rain.' (Look at those clouds, hear the thunder.)
'We are going to crash' (The plane is going down fast, the ground is close, the stewardess is hysterical)
A confusing thing about predicted futures is that we can also use them for arrangements. This is because you can see the events in your diary, or just in your mind, and use them to make a prediction..
'I'm going to visit Fred tomorrow.'
This is not quite the same as 'I'm visiting Fred tomorrow' because if you use the present continuous, it suggests that you have agreed this with Fred, or at least that Fred knows about it. This is why you could say
'I'm going to surprise him.'
but if you said 'I am surprising him tomorrow' this suggests that you have arranged the surprise with Fred, so he will hardly be amazed when it happens.
Going to: when we use 'going to' (intention) together with 'going to' (movement) we normally use just the one 'going to'.
'I'm going to Spain for our holiday this year'
And we often predict how the future will be if something happens.
If don't hurry up, we are going to be late.
Described futures use the future continuous. Just as we use the present continuous to descibe what we are doing now, we use the future continuous to describe what we will be doing in the future.
'This time next week, I'll be lying on a beach in Tuscany'
'If you need me, I'll be waiting upstairs'
Because the described future uses 'will', we know that it is about the future, so a temporal indicator is not necessary.
English people sometimes use this tense to make suggestions.
'I'll be going then, shall I?'
It is also used to refuse invitations
Fred: 'Do you want to come to the cinema with me tomorrow evening, Mary?'
Mary: 'Oh, I can't. I'll be washing my hair.'
Timetable futures describe futures which are fixed, or which happen regularly and will do so again in the future. This event is described as if it were a present simple tense.
'I have my exams next week'
'Christmas is on a Wednesday this year.'
We often use this future tense to describe what is going to happen at a certain time.
In the next act, Jack climbs the beanstalk.
And of course, for timetables
The bus leaves in ten minutes.
Perfect tenses specify the relationship between two times. In the case of the future perfect, there are two clauses. One gives a fixed point in the future, and the other specifies an event that will be complete by the time that point has been reached.
'This time next week, (fixed point in the future) we will have finished the job.(event)'
These clauses can be in any order, but if the temporal clause comes first, it usually has a comma.
'He will have forgotten about it by this time tomorrow.'
By this time tomorrow, he will have forgotten about it.'
Two part future
These are futures that, like the future perfect use two clauses. But though both the clauses of a two part future describe the future, only one verb uses a future auxiliary. An example is sentences with when.
When I see Mary, I will give her this card.
You do the same with most conditionals.
'If I see Mary, I will give her this card.'
As with the future perfect, the order of the clauses does not change the meaning. The temporal clause is now the 'if/when clause' and if it comes second it does not need a comma.
I will give Mary this card when I see her.
Because orders (and other things that must be done) have to be done at some time to come, they are also uses of the future. We have already seen how some orders can use the simple future.
You will now go back to the top and read about this tense.
Orders that are to be executed in the immediate future are addressed directly to the person who is expected to obey them and are simple infinitives without a subject.
There are other forms of compulsion (which we will be looking at later in the course) but for now remember that modals such as must, should, ought to, need to, and have to are already future, and should not have 'will' use with them.
We often use the subjective to describe something that is uncertain or conditional. Therefore this tense is useful for possible futures such as second conditionals
'If you forgot your keys, I would remind you.'
'Would you like some more cake?'
or for hypothetical events
'If you should be in this part of town, come and visit me.'
Present tense future
This is used when something is happening now, but an element of what is happening is unknown. You can make a statement about that element, using a future tense if you are sure - but not completely certain - of the facts.
You are expecting Joe, Pete and Mary at your house. Joe and Pete have already arrived. Then there is a knock at the door. You say -
'That will be Mary'
Notice that Mary is already there, but you are in fact saying 'When you open the door, you will find that Mary is there.'; so it is in fact a statement about the future.
In the same way, if you are ordering in a bar or restaurant, the waiter might ask
'Will that be all?'
He is asking if you have finished giving your order, and he expects that your answer will be 'Yes'.
We will have finished the explanations in a few seconds. The exercises will be coming up next. I expect that you will be eager to get on with them, and in a while you will be trying to answer the different exercises. Have fun!
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