you talk to a linguist, he or she may tell you that there is no
such thing as the “future tense” as far as the
language is concerned!
We only have two groups of tenses; those that refer to events in past
and those that talk about the present or the future. But let's not
split hairs; for all practical purposes, English like other languages
has future tenses: one of these is identical to the present tense, and
the other is formed using modal auxiliaries.
The present tense used as a future tense
Very often, we use a present
English to talk about future events:
look at this short dialogue:
you going next
Although this dialogue clearly
to the future, the verbs
are all in forms of the present. There is no “will”,
“Oh what a
pity. Don’t you
even get a week off?”
perhaps; we may
to Wales for a couple of days.”
This does not mean that using a clear future tense would be
it would be possible to add the words going to to stress the future
of events (remembering that going to is actually the present
tense of go .)
to go this summer?”
But in most cases, this would sound heavy.
going to stay
home; I’m going
to work all summer.”
“Oh what a
you even going to get
a week off?”
maybe we'll go to
are the simplest
way of expressing future time in many cases: the present
progressive often expresses non-defined time in
the present simple
refers to instant
defined moments in time, or events that will occur regularly.
► The future with
or "going to"
is used to imply a deliberate
predetermined action .
Look at this dialogue:
you coming home tonight,
I’ll meet you
at the airport.”.
A future form with will
needed whenever it is necessary to avoid confusion between present and
future (for example when there is no adverb of time present) Compare:
see / I’ll see
- I’m there / I’ll be there
going to ARE NOT
a) With modal verbs can, must, should, could, would.
If it is essential to mark the future aspect of a modal structure,
it is necessary to use have to instead of must,
able to instead of can, as in:
have to do better
next time (but you could also say: You must
do better next time.)
b) in time clauses after if,
when, as soon
as, unless, after, before, while etc.
We’ll have a picnic
the door as soon
as you hear
of the story when we get
Generally speaking, will
used in subordinate clauses of
I’ll sell it
to the first
person who makes
a good offer.
it for you
while you wait.
told to do!
► The future with shall
and the negative form shan't
are not often used in modern English; more than just expressing a
future action, they express a future obligation or certainty (or in the
negative, a forbidding) , and are
normally only used in the first person singular (with I), as in.
certainly visit the British Museum when I'm next in London.
But in both of these example, will
/ won't are quite acceptable alternatives.
be able to come next week, as I'm away on business.
To avoid any risk of error, the simplest principle to adopt is "never say shall".
Don't use these forms! They are slightly archaic, and there is no case
in which they are the only option possible.
See also : Modal verbs of obligation
(well, black humour).
It's a windy day at Brighton, on the coast of England. Suddenly, a man
falls into the water. A minute later, people on the sea-wall
hear him shouting:
"No one shall save me, I will drown"
"Oh well", says a man on the sea-wall, "Then
there's no point trying to save him, if that's what he wants !"
For comparison: Expressing
the future in French
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