6 Surprising Facts About the English Future Tense
Consider this: right now, we’re in the present.
In a minute, we will be in the future.
You read those sentences, and now that is all in the past.
Everything that has not happened yet is part of the future.
It might happen after a few seconds, a few years or even after hundreds and thousands of years.
It is hard to think about things that will happen that far ahead…but it is very easy to talk about them.
Talking about the future makes it possible to make plans and predictions, create schedules and wonder what the weather will be like this weekend.
To speak about the future in English, you need to learn some important facts about the English future tense.
Since you are reading this blog in English, you probably already know how to use and understand the future tense in English.
But if you want to speak perfect, fluent English, you need to learn all the important details.
You need to know when, how and why to use the future tense.
Here are 6 important facts about this tense. Once you know them all, you will always use the English future tense correctly!
6 Facts That Might Surprise You About the English Future Tense
1. There Is No Future Tense in English
That’s it, this article is over. How can we write about something that doesn’t even exist?
Wait—that’s not quite right.
You can speak about the future in the English language, and this is usually called the future tense. But many linguists (people who study languages) will tell you that the English language does not actually have a future tense.
A tense is the way we speak about time. Using the right tense can change the meaning of your sentence: is it raining now (in the present tense) or will it rain tomorrow (in the future tense)?
Use the wrong tense, and you might get wet!
Tenses are important. So, why would anyone say that there is no future tense?
This is because there is no special way to change the verbs (action words) themselves for the future tense.
To be a tense, the ending of a word has to change. In fact, by that way of thinking, you could say that the only tenses in the English language are “past” and “non-past.”
If all of this is confusing, don’t worry—things are about to become clear. You now know that the future tense has no different verb endings. This means that there are no changes that need to be made to the words. This also means that there are no irregular verbs to worry about memorizing.
And that’s something to be happy about!
So how do you speak about the future?
2. To Speak About the Future, We Use “Auxiliary Verbs”
The word “auxiliary” means “something that gives additional support or help.”
An auxiliary verb, then, is a verb that helps change the main action verb to the future tense.
This special auxiliary verb is not the important part of the sentence.
If you say “I will write him a letter,” the word “write” is the important action. The word “will” is just there to show that the writing will be done in the future.
It is just a little helper.
Now that you know about these auxiliary verbs, let’s meet the two most common ways to speak about the future.
3. We Use “Will/Shall” and “Is Going To” to Talk About the Future
The two most commonly used auxiliary words for the future tense are “will” or “shall,” and “is going to.” In fact, “shall” is rarely (not often) used these days, because it sounds a little formal. You only need to remember “will.”
Either word is followed by the unchanged form of the verb.
For example, if you’re making plans to call someone, you can say: “I will call you tomorrow” or “I am going to call you tomorrow.”
“To call” did not change. It simply follows the auxiliary verb.
These words are all placed together unless you’re using the negative form. In that case, you stick the word “not” in the middle, like this: “I will not call you tomorrow,” or “I am not going to call you tomorrow.”
You can also use the words “never” or “always” this way, by placing them between the auxiliary verb and the main verb.
For example, you can say “I will always love you” or “I will never forgive you.”
That’s all there is to it! You now know the most common and basic way to speak about the future. But how do you know when to use which auxiliary verb?
4. There Is Very Little Difference Between the Auxiliary Verbs
That means you can usually use either one and the sentence will still be correct.
There are only a few subtle (small) differences between using the word “will” (or “shall”) and the phrase “is going to:”
Use “will” to make predictions or state facts about the future.
- Predictions are things that you will will (or won’t) happen in the future. You can predict that “it will not rain tomorrow” or that “the world will end in a week.”
- You can also state facts about future events this way, like the fact that “the sun will rise at 5:30 in the morning tomorrow” or “you will never learn English if you just watch TV all day” (unless you know our tips for learning from TV shows!).
Use “going to” to make plans or express intentions.
- An intention is something that you make plans to do, or something that you hope to do.
- If you want to stop watching TV and start studying more, you can tell your friend “I’m going to study more tomorrow!”
Remember that these differences are small. You can simply say “I will study tomorrow” and that will also be correct.
5. You Can Use the Present Tense to Talk About the Future
Using auxiliary verbs is not the only way to talk about the future. Sometimes you can just use the present tense!
There is a bit more to remember in this case, since the present tense is used for the future in more specific ways.
You use the simple present tense to talk about scheduled events, usually for things that are happening soon and that you cannot control. For example: “The concert starts at 7 tonight” or “the train leaves in ten minutes.”
For arrangements or scheduled events that are discussed and planned ahead of time, you can use the “is verb+ing” form, of the present continuous tense.
Here’s what that looks like: “My parents are visiting for Christmas next year” or “What are you doing tomorrow evening?”
One more way you can use the present continuous tense is with the word “will.” You use this to show what will be happening at a specific time in the future. For example, to answer the last question asked above, you can say “tomorrow evening I will be eating dinner.”
6. Advanced: For Even More Specific Future Statements, You Can Use the Perfect Tense
This is one for the more advanced English learners.
The future perfect tense is not used as often as the others in this article and it’s a bit more complicated than the other forms.
If you want to know absolutely every way to talk about the future, read this. If you’re happy knowing only the more common forms of the future tense, you won’t miss too much if you skip this!
There are two forms of the perfect tense: simple and continuous.
- To use the simple future perfect tense, you use the words “will have” followed by the past participle form of a verb. For example: “Will have left,” “will have eaten.”
- To use the future perfect continuous tense, use the words “will have been” and then the verb+ing form of the action word. For example: “Will have been leaving,” “will have been eating.”
The future perfect tense is a way to talk about the past in the future. If that seems confusing, consider this:
“By the time I get to the station, the train will have left.” This sentence is showing that by some point in the future, an action will have already happened.
This tense can also be used to highlight the passage of time. “Tomorrow I will start eating dinner at 7. By 9 I will have been eating for two hours.” This sentence shows how long an action will take place in the future. That’s a long dinner!
The action can start in any tense, but if it ends in the future you use the future tense.
- Past perfect: “We had gotten married in 2010.”
- Present perfect: “It is now 2015 and we have been married for 5 years.”
- Future perfect: “By 2020 we will have been married for 10 years.”
Congratulations, you are now a professional in the English future tense. You don’t have to memorize many things to understand future tense. It has very few special rules and almost no irregular verbs.
This article will help you speak confidently about the future!
All you have to do is practice. Now.