Talking about the Future

by Sophia McMIllan
(Shane Training Centre, Japan)


Talking about the future in English can be difficult as technically there are no future tenses in English. The future is not fixed – it does not exist yet. So in English we use a number of forms and structures to express the future. It is usually the degree of certainty about the future decides our choice of structure or tense. But the distinction between choices is not always clear.


Native speakers of English vary their future forms depending on:
* variety, to avoid repetition
* formality, use “will” instead of “going to”
* type of text, “will” is generally used to make weather predictions

Ways of talking about the future in English.
* Will
For unplanned future events/instant decisions – I’ll get it!
For expectations/predictions that are not based on present or past evidence – England will win the match
To make promises – I’ll see you tomorrow

* Going to (be + going to + verb)
For predictions based on past or present evidence - She’s going to have a baby
For pre-meditated intentions (planned events) – She’s going to buy him a bike

* Present Continuous
For events where arrangements have been made e.g. a booking, bought tickets etc usually with a specified time adverbial e.g. next month, in July etc. – I’m seeing the dentist tomorrow

* Present simple
For timetables and programmes – The restaurant opens at 7
Indicate a future time after a time conjunction such as: after, before, when, if, until, as soon as etc - When you finish the report, put it on my desk.

* Future Continuous (will + be + the present participle)
For future events in progress that are predicted or expected to begin before a particular point in the future (and possibly continue after this time) – I'll be playing tennis at four this afternoon.
For future as a matter of course. To avoid suggesting intention, arrangement, prediction or willingness – They will be meeting at 8

* Future Perfect Simple (will + have + the past participle)
To view events from a particular point in the future as already having taken place or as having been completed, used with by or before. – They will have finished by 10

* Future Perfect Continuous (will + have + been + the present participle)
To view events from a particular point in the future when we are interested in how long they have been happening, used with for – They will have been talking for 2 hours

Less common / more advanced future forms:
* Shall/shan’t are generally considered old fashioned and are used more with making offers & suggestions generally with I and we.
* Will be doing – an event going on at a particular time in the future/a prearranged event (I’ll be going to university)/planned events.
* Be to + Infinitive – Medicine is to be taken after meals – instructions/formal arrangements/news reports.
* Future from the past – I was going to/we hoped a new one would arrive/was to be/was about to etc.

Potential Problems Learners have include:
* Choosing the right form for what they want to say
* Over-generalisation/simplification – over using one form they are comfortable with (usually the first they learnt) - *I can’t stay I’ll play golf later
* Use of future after a time expression - *I’ll call as soon as I’ll get there
* Using auxiliary verbs, adding or omitting them - *will you staying here?
* Infinitive use - *I shall to see her again
* Word order – *when you will come?
* Pronunciation – unstressed sounds; contracted forms; pronunciation of short vowel sound and /w/ in will;
* Spelling
* Timetabled Future: inappropriate use of stative verbs
* amn’t used in negatives and question tags

Anticipating learner difficulties before presenting new language will prepare you for developing a suitable and recognisable context and dealing with problems when they occur.

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