The Future Tense

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    Introduction

    If we want to communicate what we are going to do tomorrow, next week or simply anytime in the future in English, we need the future tense.
    We can express the future with the simple future (WILL), the verb phrase BE GOING TO, the future tense continuous, or the present tense continuous. Let’s have a look at all the ways of expressing future.

    If you are a beginner, there is no need to know all of these expressions. The phrases “will” and “be going to” are all you need to know when communicating the future.

    1 Simple Future Tense (WILL)

    Imagine that you have invited a few of your friends over for dinner. The dinner was longer than expected and everyone went home pretty late. You are tired and you do not want to wash the dishes, you say – I will clean up tomorrow (Uklidím to až zítra). It is a sudden decision that you will do something in the future. That is the reason why we use the simple future.

    A few sample sentences:

    • I will do my homework in the afternoon.
    • I will visit him tomorrow.

    In the subchapter The Use of Simple Future Tense, we are going to find exactly when to use it. But first, let’s see how to form the simple future tense.

    1.1 The Formation of Simple Future Tense (WILL)

    When exactly do we need to form the simple future?
    subject + WILL + verb in infinitive form + the rest of the sentence

    Affirmative form  
    Iwillgo.
    Youwillgo.
    Hewillgo.
    Shewillgo.
    Wewillgo.
    Youwillgo.
    Theywillgo.
    • We create the negative form of simple future by adding the negative adverb NOT after WILL (I will not go).
    • The contracted form of WILL NOT is WON‘T (I won‘t go.)
      • Careful – students often mistake the pronunciation of contracted form “won’t” with the verb “want”.

    subject + will not / won‘t + verb in infinitive form + the rest of the sentence

    Negative form  
    Iwon'tgo.
    Youwon'tgo.
    Hewon'tgo.
    Shewon'tgo.
    Wewon'tgo.
    Youwon'tgo.
    Theywon'tgo.

    • When forming a question, we switch the subject with WILL.
    Question  
    WillIgo?
    Willyougo?
    Willhego?
    Willshego?
    Willwego?
    Willyougo?
    Willtheygo?

    We may encounter so-called short answers very often. For example, when there is a question Will you go? we answer Yes, I will..

    1.2 The Use of Simple Future Tense (WILL)

    We already know how to form the simple future tense and now we are going to have a look at when to use it:
    1) sudden decision

    • A: Oh no, it’s raining!
    • B: I will take you home by car.

    2) something is possible OR likely to happen in the future

    • Maybe he will join us
    • I think they will be late again.
    • We will probably come with you next summer.

    3) making promises

    • I will give you the money back next week.

    4) when we make an order

    • I will have the large ham sandwich.

    5) when we threaten someone

    • I will never speak to you again if you tell her!

    6) when we warn someone

    • Be careful or you will get hurt.

    1.3 The Vocabulary Associated with Simple Future (WILL)

    Simple future is marked with frequent usage of the following words. If we are not sure what tense to use, these words can give us a hint:

    • MAYBE
      usually at the beginning of the sentence

    Maybe, I will walk to work tomorrow.

    • I THINK
      usually at the beginning of the sentence, also can be used at the end

    I think (that) he will not come.
    He will not come, I think.

    • PROBABLY
      after the subject and WILL
      when in negative form, we put PROBABLY between subject + WILL and NOT

    I will probably see you tomorrow.
    I will probably not see you tomorrow.

    2 The Phrase BE GOING TO

    The phrase BE GOING TO is one of the ways to express the future and it is often used in English. We use it when we need to express a plan we made for the future:

    • I am going to visit my grandmother at the weekend.
    • My sister is going to clean up the attic.

    When exactly we use it, is something we will find out in the subchapter The Use of the phrase BE GOING TO but now, let’s see how to form it.

    2.1 Forming the Phrase BE GOING TO

    What do we need to form it?
    subject + auxiliary verb TO BE + GOING TO + lexical verb in infinitive form

    Affirmative form  
    I amgoing torelax.
    You aregoing torelax.
    He isgoing torelax.
    She isgoing torelax.
    We aregoing torelax.
    You aregoing torelax.
    They aregoing torelax.
    • The negative form of BE GOING TO is formed by adding NOT after the auxiliary verb TO BE
      (I am not going to relax.)

    subject + auxiliary verb TO BE + NOT + GOING TO + lexical verb in infinitive

    Negative form  
    I'm notgoing torelax.
    You're notgoing torelax.
    He's notgoing torelax.
    She's notgoing torelax.
    We're notgoing torelax.
    You're notgoing torelax.
    They're notgoing torelax.

    • When forming a question, we switch the position of the subject with the auxiliary verb TO BE:

    Question  
    Am Igoing torelax?
    Are yougoing torelax?
    Is hegoing torelax?
    Is shegoing torelax?
    Are wegoing torelax?
    Are yougoing torelax?
    Are theygoing torelax?

    We can see short answers very often when using BE GOING TO in questions. For example, Are you going to relax?Yes, I am.

    2.2 The Use of the Phrase BE GOING TO

    We already know how to form sentences with the phrase BE GOING TO. Now, let’s focus on situations in which it will come in handy:
    1) When talking about future plans
    It is not a sudden decision but a plan which we had for a long time:

    • We are going to get married.
    • She is going to travel to Africa.

    2) When we anticipate something to happen
    Those are situations that we anticipate happening in the future based on some evidence. For example, in the following sentence, we see clouds and that is why we think it is going to snow:

    • Look at the clouds! It’s going to snow.

    2.3 Colloquial English and the phrase BE GOING TO

    You might have already seen the expression GONNA. This expression can often be heard in songs, movies, or native speakers’ communication. The phrase BE GOING TO is too long for them and it is shortened in colloquial language. You don’t only shorten “I am” to “I’m”, “she is” to “she’s” and so on – also GOING TO is shortened to GONNA:

    • I’m gonna spend some time in New York.
    • It’s gonna rain again – look at the sky.
    • We’re gonna visit some friends.

    3 Present Continuous

    Another option as to how to express future is present tense continuous. We use present continuous when speaking about something happening right now but it also helps us express planned future – something we are 100% sure about.

    Imagine that you have a fever and you know that you will not go to work tomorrow. This is the situation for which we need present continuous:

    I’m not going to work tomorrow. (I’m sure about it as I feel ill.)

    Maybe you think it is weird because it sounds similar to BE GOING TO. It does sound similar but it is not the same. Compare:

    I’m not going to school tomorrow (present continuous).
    x
    I’m not going to GO to school tomorrow (phrase BE GOING TO).

    When expressing the future, these two options are different in meaning. If we are 100% sure, we use present continuous. Meanwhile, if we are planning something for a long time and we are not 100% sure about it, we use the phrase BE GOING TO.

    4 Future Tense Continuous

    It will not be hard for you to use future continuous if you remember how to form present and past continuous. We use future continuous when we want to communicate that something will be happening in the future.

    Imagine that you will go on holiday tomorrow and you are excited. You look at your watch and say happily:

    • By this time tomorrow, I will be
      swimming in the sea.

      • This is one of the many examples of why we need future continuous – if we want to express that something will be happening at a given time in the future, we use future continuous.

    When to use it, is something we are going to talk about in detail in the subchapter The Use of Future Continuous. Let’s see how to form it.

    4.1 The Formation of Future Continuous

    What do we need to form future tense continuous?
    subject + WILL BE + lexical verb with -ING suffix

    Affirmative form  
    Iwill bedancing.
    Youwill bedancing.
    Hewill bedancing.
    Shewill bedancing.
    Wewill bedancing.
    Youwill bedancing.
    Theywill bedancing.
    • The negative form is formed by adding NOT after WILL.
    • The contracted form is WON‘T (You won’t be dancing).
    Negative form  
    Iwon't bedancing.
    Youwon't bedancing.
    Hewon't bedancing.
    She won't bedancing.
    Wewon't bedancing.
    Youwon't bedancing.
    Theywon't bedancing.
    • If we want to form a question, we switch the position of the subject with WILL. BE is placed after the subject:
    Question  
    WillI bedancing?
    Willyou bedancing?
    Willhe bedancing?
    Willshe bedancing?
    Willwe bedancing?
    Willyou bedancing?
    Willthey bedancing?

    As was already mentioned, we can see short answers very often. For example, to the question Will you be dancing? we answer with Yes, I will.

    4.2 The Use of Future Continuous

    Let’s see how to use future tense continuous.

    • Something will be happening in the future

    Tomorrow, I will be skiing in the Alps.
    (It refers to a particular time when it will be happening in the future. Be careful that a native speaker would never use the expression “Tomorrow I will ski.” That would sound unnatural to them because skiing is an activity that is happening and that is why we use the future continuous here. Although they would understand what you’re trying to communicate.)

    This time next week, we will be lying on the beach.

    • Emphasizing for how long something will last

    I will be waiting for you for two hours.

    • When talking about plans (holidays, trips, journeys)

    They will be leaving in the morning.

    4.3 The Vocabulary Associated with Future Continuous

    • THIS TIME TOMORROW

    We put THIS TIME TOMORROW at the beginning of the sentence. Of course, we can put a different time determination after THIS TIME, for example THIS TIME NEXT WEEK, THIS TIME NEXT YEAR and so on.

    This time tomorrow, we will be taking the test.
    This time next week, I will be driving to France.

    5 The Difference between the Various Ways of Expressing Future

    Let’s summarize again and look at the difference between the four ways of expressing the future in English.

    • Simple future (WILL): If we say “I will clean the house tomorrow.”, it means that we have just decided that we will clean the house tomorrow.
    • The prase BE GOING TO: If we say “I am going to clean the house tomorrow.”, we want to communicate that we had this plan prepared for a long time.
    • Present continuous: If we say “I am cleaning the house tomorrow.”, we are expressing that we are 100% sure that we are going to clean the house tomorrow (e.g. we are expecting an important visit).
    • Future continuous: If we say “I will be cleaning the house the whole day tomorrow.”, we are emphasizing the specific time course of the activity.
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    Vendula Nedělová
    She completed her master's degree at the Faculty of Education, Charles University, specializing in English language, music culture, pedagogy, and social pedagogy. She has many years of experience in language teaching in the Czech Republic, USA, Indonesia and Germany. She works as a methodologist and coordinator of language courses in OLINE learning, where she leads a team of lecturers and the creation of language courses for more than 137 000 students. Vendula follows the motto: “Learning should be fun, because if we enjoy what we do, then it makes sense”.