The use of the future in English is more complicated than in many other languages. This is because the future in English can be described by a number of different tenses depending on what part of the future is important to the person telling you about it. He might want to tell you that the thing which will happen is a regular event, something that cannot be avoided, something he has arranged, something he wants to happen, how long it will be until something happens, and even how sure he is that it will happen.
In this section we are going to look at six ways to talk about the future, and grammatical structures used with each.
Simple futures futures with 'will' have a number of uses:
'I will be home at six o'clock.' (a statement about the future)
'You will not talk to me like that!' (a command)
'I will have a coffee, thank you, waiter' (describing a decision)
Simple futures use 'will' (or won't) plus the infinitive without 'to'. Statements about the future often have a temporal indicator. (six o'clock, tomorrow, soon). An order is given as a future tense when it has a subject. Orders without a subject (Come here! Read this.) use the infinitive without 'will' and are used when the order has to be obeyed immediately. Orders with 'will' have a subject and a future intention. '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.'
The future with 'will' to express a decision is used at the moment that the decision is made, or to show that this decision is a very firm one, and that the person who has made it can't be persuaded to change his mind.
'My holidays? Oh, I think that this year I will go to Spain'
'I will marry Jim, and there is nothing that can stop me!'
Once a decision has been made, it becomes an Arranged future. Arranged futures are futures where you have decided what to do, but you have not yet done it.
'I am going to Spain for my holidays. I have booked two weeks in July.'
'I'm meeting Jack for lunch next week. He called me this morning.'
'Fred is taking Mary to the cinema on Saturday. He asked her yesterday.'
We discuss arranged futures with the present continuous (the auxiliary 'to be' and the present participle). This is because the future action started at the moment the decision was made, and it will continue until the time that the action is finished. We often use a temporal indicator with arranged futures to show that the future is not happening now
Mike is doing his exams (now!)
Mike is doing his exams in December. (not now)
Sometimes we can see what the future will be from the information that we have now. To show that we are doing this we use a future with 'going to' plus infinitive.
'She's going to have a baby' (Look at her tummy - she is pregnant.)
'I'm going to be late' (It takes me 20 minutes to get there, and I have only got five minutes left)
We can also use a predicted future to say what we want to do.
'I'm going to sleep for a while'
'I'm going to have some more tea'
This is because the information about the future which we have includes information about what we want the future to be. It also suggests that you have thought about it before speaking. (Remember , spontaneous decisions use 'will').
What are you going to do?
Means 'Have you thought about your plans for the future and about what will happen next?'
When we use 'going to' (intention) together with 'going to' (movement) we normally use them as just one phrase.
'I'm going to Spain for our holiday this year'
Not: - I'm going to go to Spain for our holiday this year
We can also use 'going to' for something that we think is impossible to avoid
'We know the world is going to end one day'
And we often use it with first conditionals
If you keep eating that, you are going to be sick.
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'
'We'll be having a party next week, do you want to come?'
'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. The tense is the future continuous, so it uses 'will be' and a present participle.
English people sometimes use this tense to make suggestions.
'I'll be going then, shall I?'
'Shall we be getting started?'
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 are used to describe futures which are fixed, or for an event that happens regularly and will do so again in the future. This event is described by an infinitive without to, as if it was a present simple tense.
'I have my exams next week'
'Halley's comet comes again in fifty years'
'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.
Our holiday starts tomorrow.
And of course, for timetables
The bus leaves in ten minutes.
The eclipse is at 11.30 tonight
This is the future with the perfect tense. When we use this future, we 'move' ourselves to a time in the future, and look back at the 'past'. Because all perfect tenses describe the relationship of one time with another time, we have to use a temporal indicator when using this tense.
'This time next week, we will have lived here for ten years.'
'He will have forgotten about it by this time tomorrow.'
When you finish this, you will have read all the examples in this unit.
This tense uses 'will have' and a past participle. It usually has two parts - the time in the future, and what will happen between that time and the time when the person is speaking.
In a few seconds you will have finished reading this description of the future tense. Next you will do some exercises. Do you think you are going to do well? The new exercises are coming up now. They come after you press the blue arrow. Soon you will be doing them. Good luck!
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