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Using the Japanese Future Tense: How It Works and Ways to Express It (Examples Included)

Learning how to express actions or events that will take place in the future is crucial for any language.

However, maybe you’ve heard that there’s no Japanese future tense at all.

Fortunately, there are plenty of different ways you can express the future in Japanese! In this guide, I’ll explain how you can use things like time words, context and more to talk about things that will happen in the future.

Let’s get started!


Does Japanese Have a Future Tense?

Japanese and English both categorize their tenses as “past” and “non-past.”

Tenses change verbs to imply the time, duration and end of an action. For example, here’s an English verb with a few of its conjugations:

to go → went, had gone, going, will go

Note that the last tense didn’t get conjugated, it’s just got a helping verb attached to it.

Then, how do you speak about the future in Japanese? How do you make it clear that you’re talking about things that haven’t happened yet and not about the present?

It’s pretty simple, actually: You need to imply it. You need to make a sentence which cannot be mistaken for anything other than a future-tense sentence. This post will show you how to do that!

How to Use the Future Tense in Japanese

You can form the future tense in Japanese through a range of methods, including through context, by using time words or through special grammatical constructions. Naturally, you can also use all the methods in one sentence. And while this post goes over how to do that, the best way to learn is by hearing it in use by native Japanese speakers. Reinforce what you read below with a program like FluentU, which gives you access to videos and clips paired with learning tools.

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Forming the Japanese Future Tense with Context

Forming a future tense sentence via context means creating a sentence which implies that its action is set in the future.

Let’s take a look at some examples, first using formal and then informal speech.:

(この しゃつは きれい なので、かいます。)
This shirt is pretty so I’ll buy it.

You’re either buying something right now or you’ll buy it in the future (or you bought it already, but the past is irrelevant here since it has a clear form).

And so, through context, we can deduce that this sentence is using the future tense!

(じゅうぶんな おかねが あれば、ふらんすへ りょこうします。)
If I have enough money, I’ll travel to France.

Once again, this sentence implies your future intentions.

(かのじょに こくはく します。)
I’ll confess my love to her.

You can’t say this sentence could be translated in the present tense this time. Would you seriously be talking to a different person while you confess your love to a girl?

(ぼくは はいゆうに なります。)
I’ll become an actor.

You can’t become something instantly. This one’s definitely in the future tense!

Let’s move on to the informal talk. This time, we’ll be using the same examples as we used in the formal part, just so we don’t create confusion.

(この しゃつは きれい なので、かう。)
This shirt is pretty so I’ll buy it.

(じゅうぶんな おかねが あれば、ふらんすへ りょこうする。)
If I have enough money, I’ll travel to France.

(かのじょに こくはく する。)
I’ll confess my love to her.

(ぼくは はいゆうに なる。)
I’ll become an actor.

This method works only if you have enough context to decide if a sentence is in the present or future tense. Take this sentence, for instance:

(だいがくへ いきます。)
I’ll go to college. / I go to college.

This statement is vague since you might mean that you plan to go to college or you might just be stating that you currently attend college. Make sure to always include enough context so listeners know what you mean!

Forming the Japanese Future Tense with Time Words

The other method of forming the Japanese future tense is to simply add a time word or phrase. This is easy to see in an example:

(あしたは、らーめんを たべます。)
I’ll eat ramen tomorrow.

Just by adding the word “tomorrow,” you take what could’ve been a vague sentence and place it firmly in the future. Here’s another example:

(らいねん、そつぎょう します。)
I’ll graduate next year.

Next year is definitely in the future and this sentence is definitely future tense. No confusion here!

You can also place the action forward in time through context, instead of using a specific time:

(しごとの あとで いざかやへ いきます。)
After work, I’ll go to an izakaya.

Going to an izakaya is set in the future thanks to the context that it’ll happen “after work.”

Here are the examples using informal speech:

(あしたは、らーめんを たべる。)
I’ll eat ramen tomorrow.

(しごとの あとで いざかやへ いく。)
After work, I’ll go to an izakaya.

I’ll graduate next year.

Forming the Japanese Future Tense with に

If relying on context isn’t specific enough for you, there are also some simple grammatical constructions you can use. The first one’s made by placing に between two verbs. The other one’s formed with つもり at the end of a sentence.

Let’s start with the first one. This construction indicates a future intention. It’s made by taking a verb in its -masu form, adding に after it and then adding a verb again after that particle.

Here are some examples:

(ははを てつだいに いきます。)
I’ll go and help mom.

The speaker has an intention to help his mother, which is why he’ll go to her.

(ともだちが べんきょうしに きます。)
My friend will come to study.

Your friend’s intention is to study, and that’s why he’ll come.

(きゃばくらへ のみに いきます。)
I’ll go to the cabaret to drink.

As you can see, this form takes all the potential confusion out of stating future intentions.

Here are the same examples in informal Japanese this time:

(ははを てつだいに いく。)
I’ll go and help mom.

(ともだちが べんきょうしに くる。)
My friend will come to study.

(きゃばくらへ のみに いく。)
I’ll go to the cabaret to drink.

Be careful when using this construction not to mix in the past tense. For example:

* 友達が勉強しに来た。
(ともだちが べんきょうしに きた。)
My friend came to study.

Whoa there, that can’t be future tense. It’s in the past form so you blew it. Don’t put verbs in past tense if you want to talk about the future. Other than that, you should be good to go!

Forming the Japanese Future Tense with つもり

The つもり method has basically the same meaning—depiction of intention—but it’s constructed a bit differently.

You construct it by putting つもり at the end of a sentence.

As a bonus, the formal and informal versions are practically the same, with the formal taking です at the end.

(うみへ いく つもり です。)
I plan to go to the sea.

There’s really nothing more to it, so here are some more examples:

(むらかみ りゅうの ほんを よむ つもり です。)
I intend to read Ryuu Murakami’s book.

(かれーを つくる つもり です。)
I plan to prepare curry.

Just remember not to use the formal conjugation of a verb, like in this incorrect example:

* 本を買いますつもり。
(ほんを かいます つもり。)
I plan to buy a book.

This is wrong! The correct sentence would say:

(ほんを かう つもり です。)
I plan to buy a book.

We won’t write out the informal versions because they’re the same just without です at the end. Simple!


Languages have always been and always will be the best means of discussing the past, present and future. After all, that’s the core of language, along with its power of connecting people.

Now you can travel into the future with the Japanese language!

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