Choosing the correct future tenses

One of the things that makes English a rich language is the variety and flexibility of the tenses. This is covered in huge detail in my book, The English Tenses Practical Grammar Guide, but this post will give you a quick introduction! The future tense is possibly the most dynamic of the tenses, as it can be formed from other tenses, as well as use its own form. Some constructions of the future tense include:

  • Present tense + future time
  • Present continuous + future time
  • Will or shall + simple present
  • Will + present perfect
  • Will + present perfect continous

Simple present tense + future time

We use the present tense and a future time for scheduled events, or when plans are fixed. For example:

  • The train leaves Brighton at 13.30.
  • I start my new job on Monday.
  • What time does the film start?
  • Tomorrow is Monday.

Present continuous + future time

We use the present continuous and a future time for something that is decided or arranged for the future. It is less formal than using the simple present. For example:

  • We‘re playing tennis on Thursday.
  • What are you doing this evening?
  • They‘re getting married in Spring.

The most common use of present continuous for a future meaning is with to be + going to. Again, it is mostly used for events that have been decided/arranged. For example:

  • I am going to watch the film.
  • She is going to marry him, as soon as he proposes.

Will + bare infinitive

We use will and a bare infinitive when we decide to do something at the time of speaking, or it has an immediate impact (unlike the present tenses with future meanings, where the action is already arranged). For example:

  • I‘ll shut the door.
  • He will have an orange juice.
  • They‘ll be back shortly. (Not ‘They come back shortly.’ which would suggest a more general or recurring event.)

We can use shall instead of will as a more formal way to ask questions.

Will + present perfect

We use will and the the present perfect to discuss the completion of something in the future. For example:

  • I will have learnt the future tenses by tomorrow.
  • By sunset, they will have visited all of Brighton’s bars.

Will + present perfect continuous

We use will and the present perfect continuous to discuss how long an event has been occurring for at a point in the future. For example:

  • This summer, I will have been teaching English for 6 years. (And am still teaching it.)
  • By next week, I will been playing the violin for 3 months.

For more information on the uses of both the present tense and the present perfect continuous, please read this article on future tenses, or for a full understanding of all the tenses, check out my complete grammar guide.


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