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The future in English

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Verb tenses 3

Expressing the future in English


Subject index:  Using the present tense Using will and going to Using shall  Negative forms

Forms of the future in English


If 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 English language is concerned! We only have two groups of tenses; those that refer to events in past time, 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.

1. The present tense used as a future tense

Very often, we use a present tense in English to talk about future events: look at this short dialogue:
 “Where are you going next summer?”
 “We’re staying at home. I’m working all summer!”
 “Oh what a pity. Don’t you even get a week off?”
 “Well perhaps; we may go to Wales for a couple of days.”
Although this dialogue clearly refers to the future, the verbs are all in forms of the present. There is no “will”, no “going to”.

 This does not mean that using a clear future tense would be wrong; it would be possible to add the words going to to stress the future nature of events (remembering that going to is actually the present progressive tense of go .)
 “Where are you going to go this summer?”
 “We’re going to stay at home; I’m going to work all summer.”
 “Oh what a pity. Aren’t you even going to get a week off?”
 “Well perhaps; maybe we'll go to Wales ....”
But in most cases, this would sound heavy
 Present forms are the simplest way of expressing future time in many cases: the present progressive often expresses non-defined time in the future, the present simple refers to instant defined moments in time, or events that will occur regularly. 


2.► The future with "will" or "going to"

A “future” with will is used to imply a deliberate predetermined action .
Look at this dialogue:
 “Are you coming home tonight, darling?”
 “Yes; my plane gets in at 8.15.”
 “O.K. then, I’ll meet you at the airport.”.

A future form with will is also needed whenever it is necessary to avoid confusion between present and future (for example when there is no adverb of time present)

           Compare:

 I see / I’ll see  - I’m there / I’ll be there

Will and going to ARE NOT  USED... 
a) With modal verbs can, could,  must, should,  would.
If it is essential to mark the future aspect of a modal structure, it is necessary to use have to instead of must, and be able to instead of can, as in:
You’ll have to do better next time 
    One could also say: You must do better next time.
See also: can, couldmust, should

b) in time clauses after if, when, as soon as, unless, after, before, while etc.
 We’ll have a picnic tomorrow if it’s dry.
 He'll  open the door as soon as he hears the bell.
 I’ll tell you the rest of the story when we get home.
Important:  Generally speaking, will is not used in subordinate clauses of any type.
 I’ll sell it to the first person who makes a good offer.
 They’ll mend it for you while you wait.
 You’ll do whatever you’re told to do!

3. ► The future with shall

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.
     I shall certainly visit the British Museum when I'm next in London.
     I shan't  be able to come next week, as I'm away on business.
But in both of these example, will / won't are quite acceptable alternatives.
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

4.► Negative forms of the future 

These should not cause any problem for learners of English..

For negative forms of the present tense used with a future meaning, see the present tense.
  • The negative forms of will are won't or will not
  • The negative forms of going to are not going to, with full or contracted forms of the auxiliary.
  • The negative forms of shall are shan't or shall not.
 I won't be home for dinner tonight, darling..
 The guard isn't going to / is not going to open the doors until 9 a.m.
  I shan't  be able to come next week, as I'm on holiday.


Future forms of verbs in the passive


See The Passive


For comparison:  Expressing the future in French


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 Exprimer le futur en anglais










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