The English Future Tense: What It Is and How to Use It Correctly
Consider this: Right now, we are 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.
Talking about the future makes it possible to make plans and predictions, create schedules and wonder what the weather will be like this weekend.
And to speak amazing, fluent English, you need to know when, why and how to use the English future tense.
- What Is the English Future Tense?
- Advanced: Using the Present Tense to Talk About the Future
- And One More Thing...
What Is the English Future Tense?
A tense is the way we speak about time. In English, you can use the present tense (right now), the past tense (yesterday, last week and so on) and the future tense (tomorrow, next month and so on).
To speak about the future in English, we mostly use the word “will.” This word helps change the main action verb to the future tense.
We will go over all of the English future tenses in more detail shortly. But first, here is a quick summary of each one:
- The future simple is for an action that is going to happen in the future. (Example: We will go to the beach on Friday. )
- The future continuous is for an action that will be on-going in the future. (Example: She will be sleeping at a hotel tonight. )
- The future perfect is for an action that will be over or finished in the future. (Example: They will have eaten dinner by 8:00 PM. )
- The future perfect continuous is for an action that will continue until some time in the future. (Example: Next year, he will have been working here for six years. )
The future perfect and the future perfect continuous tenses are not used as commonly as the other two. If you are still a beginning English learner, do not worry about them yet! If you are more advanced, those tenses can help take your English skills to the next level.
Now, let’s take a look at how to form each of the four English future tenses.
The Future Simple Tense
The future simple tense means that an action is going to happen in the future.
For this tense, you can use the word “will,” as you just learned above. You can also use “is going to.” Either one is followed by the unchanged form of the verb, like this:
I will call you tomorrow.
I am going to call you tomorrow.
Both of these sentences mean the same thing. And in both sentences, the verb “call” appears the same way, with no special ending.
You can write sentences that use the future simple tense with this formula: Subject + will/is going to + Verb
You may sometimes see the word “shall” in this tense, as in:
I shall call you tomorrow.
The word “shall” sounds more formal, and it is not as common as “will” and “is going to,” so do not worry too much about it.
The important thing to remember is that there is very little difference between these three helping verbs. That means you can usually use whichever one you want and your 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.” Take a look:
- Use “will” to make predictions or state facts about the future.
You can also state facts about future events this way, like: “The sun will rise at 5:30 in the morning tomorrow” or “They will attend the party next Friday.”
- 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 say, “I am going to study more tomorrow!”
Remember that these differences are small. You can simply say “I will study tomorrow” and that is also correct.
The Negative Form
To say that something will not happen in the future, you can place the word “not” into the sentence, like this:
I will not call you tomorrow.
I am not going to call you tomorrow.
You will often see the shortened versions of these, by the way: “will not” becomes “won’t” and “am not going to” becomes “I’m not going to”:
It won’t rain tomorrow.
I’m not going to study more.
As a bonus for the future simple tense, you can also put the words “never” or “always” in the same spot:
I will always love you.
I am never going to forgive you.
The Future Continuous Tense
The future continuous tense shows that an action will be on-going in the future. That means the action will start in the future and then keep going.
We also use the word “will” to form the English future continuous tense. For example:
I will be studying in the afternoon.
That means that I am not studying yet. I will start studying in the afternoon, and then I will continue studying for some time.
To form the future continuous tense, you need “will,” then the word “be” and then the present participle of your verb (the -ing form). Here are a few more examples:
He will be working this evening.
We will be taking a train tomorrow.
They will be watching a movie later.
Do you see the pattern? You can make future continuous sentences with this formula: Subject + will + be + Verb (-ing)
The Negative Form
Just like the future simple tense, simply add the word “not” into the sentence after “will”:
I will not be studying in the afternoon.
He will not be working this evening.
And again, you will often see “will not” written as “won’t,” like this:
She won’t be eating dinner at 6 o’clock today.
The Future Perfect Tense
The future perfect tense means that an action will be completed in the future.
This tense is a way to talk about the past in the future. If that seems confusing, consider this example:
By the time I get to the station, the train will have left.
This means that you are not at the train station right now. However, when you arrive there, the train will not be there anymore. So this type of sentence shows that, by some time in the future, an action will already be finished.
Take a look at another example:
By 11 o’clock tonight, my parents will have arrived.
That means that my parents are not here yet, but they will be here before 11:00 PM.
So, you can use this formula to make sentences that use the future perfect tense: Subject + will + have + Verb (in the past participle form)
Here are some more examples to make sure you have it down:
If we don’t leave now, the show will have finished by the time we arrive.
By this time tomorrow, I will have slept for only six hours.
Will you have eaten dinner when I get to your house?
Did you notice how most of the examples include the phrase “by (a certain time or event)”?
That is a good way to know that you are using the tense correctly. We can even write the last example that way: “Will you have eaten dinner by the time I get to your house?”
The Negative Form
To say that something will not happen by a certain time in the future, we use the negative form of the future perfect tense. Again, the word “not” follows the word “will,” like this:
The train will not have left before I get to the station.
My parents will not have arrived by 11 o’clock tonight.
I won’t have eaten dinner when you arrive.
Note that it is not as common to use the negative form of this tense. You are much more likely to encounter (see) the positive forms from above.
The Future Perfect Continuous Tense
The future perfect continuous tense shows that an action continues until a specific time in the future.
The action may also continue after that point in the future, like this:
Next week, Sammy will have been studying English for five years.
“Next week” is the specific time in the future. That is when Sammy can say “I started studying English five years ago.” (Right now, he can only say four years.) Sammy is planning to continue studying English after next week, too.
However, it is possible that the action of the sentence will not continue after the specific point of time in the future. For example:
Nicole is waiting for me at the train station, but I am running late. By the time I arrive, Nicole will have been waiting for 45 minutes.
The specific point in the future is the moment I arrive at the train station. Nicole has not waited for 45 minutes yet, but that will be true when I get to the train station. However, she will not continue waiting for me once I arrive, and so the action will not continue any longer.
The important thing in both of the examples is that the action continues all the way until the specific point in the future.
So the formula you can use to form the future perfect continuous tense is: Subject + will + have been + Verb (-ing)
It is important to note that non-action verbs (verbs that do not involve action or movement) do not use the future perfect continuous tense.
Some common non-action verbs are “to know,” “to live (at a place)” and “to love.” Sentences with non-action verbs use “will have been” and the past participle of the verb, like this:
Tomorrow, we will have known each other for two years.
Next week, I will have lived in this house for a month.
By the time he turns 40, John will have loved Lily for half of his life.
The Negative Form
Like the negative form of the future perfect, it is also not as common to use the negative form of the future perfect continuous tense. The positive form will be much more useful to you.
In fact, the most common way to use the negative form here is to correct a statement that someone else said in the future perfect continuous tense. For example:
Actually, we will not have known each other for two years tomorrow—it will be three years!
John won’t have loved Lily for half of his life… they met last month!
Advanced: Using the Present Tense to Talk About the Future
Using helping verbs is not the only way to talk about the future. Sometimes you can just use the present tense!
There are important things to keep in mind if you want to use the present tense to talk about the future, however.
The Present Simple Tense
You can use the present simple tense to talk about scheduled events that you cannot control. Often, these events will be happening soon. For example:
The concert starts at 7:00 tonight.
The train leaves in 10 minutes.
You form the negative sentence by putting “does not” before the verb:
The concert does not start at 7:00 tonight.
Again, this negative form is useful if you want to correct information that someone else said. And you will often see the shortened form of “does not,” which is “doesn’t”:
The train doesn’t leave in 10 minutes—it leaves in five minutes!
The Present Continuous Tense
You can use the present continuous tense to talk about future plans that you made ahead of time. That means you will use the word “is” and the -ing form of the verb, like this:
My parents are visiting for Christmas next year.
What are you doing tomorrow evening?
To form the negative, you add “not” between “is/are” and the verb:
My parents are not visiting this year.
He isn’t buying a car next week.
Congratulations! You are now a professional in the English future tense. But knowing all this information won’t do much for you if you don’t actually use it. Find the future tense in use on English videos and use the subtitles and quizzes on FluentU to practice.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
All you have to do now is practice so that you can speak confidently about the future in English!
And One More Thing...
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