how to use future tenses and communicate the future in french

The Essential Guide to the French Future Tense

Let’s talk about the future.

No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to grill you on where you’ll settle down, who you’ll marry, what your career path holds, if/when you’ll start a family or how to spend your retirement years.

So take a deep breath!

We can simply talk about future topics like the trip you’re planning to France next spring.

And the soccer game you’re going to next week, or your French self-study session planned for this evening.

To discuss any of these events in daily French conversations, we’re going to need to know how to use the future tenses.

When to Use the Future Tenses

French has multiple future tenses, and just like in English, they’re used when referring to events that haven’t occurred yet – things that will take place anytime in l’avenir (the future). The indicative tense forms of the future tense are also sometimes used to express other things, such as:

  1. Politeness“Je vous demanderai de ne pas faire de bruit.” (I have to ask you to not make noise.)
  2. Probability or hypothesis“Il aura été retardé par le mauvais temps.” (It could have been delayed by the bad weather.)
  3. Emotion“Nous devrons tout supporter en silence.” (We must endure everything silently.) 

Of course, it expresses the future as well, and it can be simple to use.

Simple Future vs. Future Perfect: What’s the Difference?

The simple future tense (le futur simple) is the basic form of the future, and the English equivalent of “will + verb.” Here’s an example of how the simple future tense is used:

Ils mangeront dans l’avion. (They will eat on the plane.)

Note that in French, there is no translation for the often-used “will” in English. The future tense is one entity; more specifically, it is made of the entire verb plus an ending, depending on what subject is being used.

In the above case, ils refers to a group of people (“Il” meaning “he” and the extra “s” meaning “they,” referring to either a group of men or a group of men and women). Ils (and elles, which is used for groups of women) gets an ending of -ont at the end. For further explanation about what endings go with what subject, see the conjugation section below. 

The future perfect tense (le futur antérieur), on the other hand, expresses an act that will have happened in the future. Here’s an example of how the future perfect tense is used:

Demain, j’aurai déjà lu mon livre. (Tomorrow, I will have already read my book.)

See here how this tense is very specific. You know for a fact that you’ve set aside time to read the book tomorrow, and, therefore, it will be finished.

Oftentimes, these two tenses are used together:

Quand j’aurai déjeuné, je travaillerai. (After I’ve eaten, I will start working).

The first half of that sentence is in the future perfect tenseand expresses an action (eating) that you know will have to be completed before you are able to complete the next action in the future (working, expressed with the simple future tense).

Simple Future vs. Future Perfect: How to Conjugate

Here’s how to conjugate both tenses using the verb parler (to speak). One of my favorite tools for looking up irregular conjugations is Word Reference, as well as my book of “501 French Verbs”.

The below guidelines are for regular conjugations, so use the aforementioned tools for complete conjugating rules.

How to Conjugate the Simple Future Tense in French

Use the entire verb as the stem, adding “-ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont” at the end.

Je parlerai
Tu parleras
Il/Elle parlera
Nous parlerons
Vous parlerez
Ils/Elles parleront 

Other verbs that are conjugated like parler are regular –ir verbs, like finir (to finish).

Regular -re verbs also follow a pattern: simply remove the “e” from the ending of the infinitive and add your future endings. For example: for descendre (to descend, to go down), add the future endings to the stem descendr-, (je descendrai, etc.)

Conjugating être and avoir in the Simple Future Tense

Être (to be) and avoir (to have) are not only basic verbs in French, but are also helping verbs for the future perfect tense. They have irregular conjugations in the simple future tensejust as they’re irregular in the present tense. Since we’ll be using their simple future conjugations when we form the future perfect tense, here are their simple future tense conjugations for reference:

Avoir
J’aurai
Tu auras
Il/Elle aura
Nous aurons
Vous aurez
Ils/Elles auront

 

Être
Je serai

Tu seras
Il/Elle sera
Nous serons
Vous serez
Ils/Elles seront

Notice that with irregular verbs, it’s only the stem that changes – the endings remain the same. For avoir, the stem is aur-, and for être, it’s ser-.

There are many other verbs that also have irregular conjugations in the future simple tense (meaning the stem changes). A full list can be found in this very useful About article.

One of the best ways to get used to irregular conjugations (with the future tense or any other tense) is by seeing real-life French in action, and FluentU makes this easy. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, commercials and news—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

How to Conjugate the Future Perfect Tense in French

Channel your knowledge of the simple past tense, the French tense that uses either avoir or être as a stem with a past participle. A past participle indicates a past or completed action or time, and there is a specific participle for every verb in the French language.

To form the future perfect tense, first conjugate either avoir or être into the simple future tense. Then, add on the past participle of the main verb.

Formation of Future Perfect Tense: simple future (of main verb’s auxiliary, avoir or être) + past participle (of main verb)

How do you know which helping verb to use (avoir or être)? Well, each French verb either takes one or the other, so with time you’ll learn which verbs go with which helping verb.

For now, know that most verbs that use être are verbs of movement (although not all verbs of movement use être). Reflexive verbs such as s’habiller (to get dressed) also use être as their helping verb.

The best way to remember when starting out is to familiarize yourself with the main verbs that take être as its helping verb. When I was learning French, my French professors suggested the following mnemonic: DR. AND MRS. VANDERTRAMPP.

Devenir (to come from)
Revenir (to come back, to return)
&
Monter (to go up, climb)
Rester (to stay)
Sortir (to go out)

Venir (to come)
Aller (to go)
Naître (to be born)
Descendre (to come down)
Entrer (to enter)
Rentrer (to return)
Tomber (to fall)
Retourner (to return)
Arriver (to arrive, to come)
Mourir (to die)
Partir (to leave)
Passer (to pass [by])

This list is not exhaustive, but it covers the verbs that people use most often.

The rest of the time, verbs use avoir as their helping verb.

The verb parler takes avoir as its helping verb. So, to form the future perfect tense, we begin with the conjugated avoir (in simple future tense) and pair it with the past participle of parler. Since parler is regular, the participle is typical for a French -er verb: knock off the “r” and accent the “e.” For parler, we get parlé.

J’aurai parlé
Tu auras parlé
Il/Elle aura parlé
Nous aurons parlé
Vous aurez parlé
Ils/Elles auront parlé

For a full list of past participles, check out this chart.

The Near Future Tense: Using “Aller” to Express the Future

The near future tense (le futur proche) is used to express something that will be happening in the very near future, and is formed by conjugating the verb aller (to go) into the present tense and pairing it with the infinitive verb.

Formation of Near Future Tense: present tense of aller + infinitive (main verb)

Here’s a sample sentence in the near future tense:

     Je vais nager. (I am going to swim.)

See here that aller is conjugated in the present while nager stays in its infinitive form, unconjugated. You would say this if you were going swimming in the near future. 

If you were going to swim sometime further in the future, your sentence would look more like this:

     Je nagerai. (I will swim.)

This implies that you will swim sometime in the future. You can, of course, add words to be more specific, like la semaine prochaine (next week), demain (tomorrow) or l’été prochain (next summer).

The Present Tense as Future in French

In French, the future can also be expressed using the present tense. You’ll often see an exchange similar to the one below:

JohnJe rentre chez moi bientôt. (I’m going home soon)
MollyOk, j’arrive dans cinq minutes. (I’ll be there in five minutes).

Notice here that no future tense is being used in the French. When you use a word that implies the future, like bientôt (soon), dans cinq minutes (in five minutes), l’an prochain (next year) or demain (tomorrow), you’re already expressing the future within the sentence.

Therefore, in spoken French, the future is sometimes completely left off.

Where to Practice the French Future Tense

The best way to learn how to use the future tense is to practice. It’s crucial to find a language partner who is a native French speaker, especially when it comes to distinguishing using the present tense to express the future and the future tense itself. Learning how and when to use these tenses in everyday conversation is crucial, and will help your writing skills, as well.

This BBC Future Tense article has great comprehensive examples on how and when to use the future tensethe present tense as the future and the near future tense.

Listen for the future tense when you watch French television or movies, or even when you’re listening to podcasts. Take note of both how it’s used, and when native speakers use it.

Although the present tense is used most often, especially in podcasts that speak about current events or culture, some news podcasts try to predict what will happen next. Find those, listen to how the future tense is used and adopt it in your own language.

So try out some of these methods, listen to how the future tense is used and then try it for yourself.

Who knows, perhaps in l’avenir with all of your forthcoming knowledge, you will want to talk about what’s to come in your career, family life and romantic relationships.

And if not, you’re safe to use this French with whatever’s just around the corner!

And One More Thing…

Okay, now let’s really talk about the future.

Your future.

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