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Linguapress English Grammar

Verb tenses 3

Future tenses in English

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

Forms of the future in English

The most common way to express future time in English is to use the present tense.

 Although there is a "future tense" which is formed by using the modal auxiliary will, or occasionally shall, it is not normally necessary to use either of these. If other elements in a sentence, such as an adverb like tomorrow, clearly refer to future time, then it will not normally be necessary to use a specific future tense. A present tense will do.
  Another option for expressing the future is to use the verb form going to. For more details on when to use going to, see below.

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 use of the present tense to express future time can be viewed in two possible ways:
  • either that the present tense in English can be used as a future tense;
  • or else that basic future tenses in English are identical to the present tenses.

You can choose whichever explanation you prefer. They are both valid.

 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"

On its own in a sentence, 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)


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

Will and going to ARE NOT USED  in two specific cases :
a) With modal verbs can, could,  must, should,  would.
b) In time clauses after if, when, as soon as, unless, after, before, while etc.

► With modal verbs......
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.
IMPORTANT ! A future with will is NEVER USED in subordinate clauses of time or condition
 See also: can, couldmust, should

► In time clauses after if, when, as soon as, unless, after, before, while etc,  a “present tense” future is used. On the other hand a future with will (or going to) is required in the main clause if the action is in the future.  Compare the verbs tenses in these examples.
 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.
See also: Conditional structures (if clauses)

Generally speaking, will is not used in subordinate clauses  when futurity is marked by the verb in the main clause. Except in some relative clauses, it is very unusual to find a future tense in both the main clause and a subordinate clause.
 Ill sell it to the first person who makes a good offer.
 Theyll mend it for you while you wait.
 You’ll do whatever you’re told to do!

2.2  Going to

Going to is used to stress a certainty or intention, and is essentially used in spoken English.
Note that the colloquial contraction gonna is never normally used in written English, but is common in spoken English except in formal style. More than a contracted form of going to, it is a phonetic condensation of the two words as one, with a range of pronunciations including [gɔnə], [gənə] or even [gə:ntə], and many speakers do not even notice when they condense the two words.
"As soon as I get home, I'm going to  go to bed".
"I'm gonna get a pizza"
"And now, in front of the world's TV cameras,  the President is going to [gə:ntə] sign the treaty on behalf his country...."

2.3   is to / are to:

Future actions can also be expressed using the auxiliary be, most commonly with the forms Is to / are to . Stylistically this is rather formal, and is used to express planned or commanded  future events.
You're to stay here until I return !
The President is to visit Los Angeles next month, for discussions with the Governor.
► For more on to be as a modal verb, seer To be - modal

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

For the future perfect tense (as in They will have finished before midnight), see past tenses

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.
 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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Le futur en anglais


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Verbs : the future
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