Talking about the future – English Future Tenses
Expressing the future time in English is particularly fraught with problems not only because there are so many different forms to choose from, but also because the distinction between them is not always clear.
There should be no problem in making this particular form of the future tense since will does not change with the subject and the main verb is the form that you would find in a dictionary and so does not change either.
will not (won’t)
This is the form that most people immediately associate with the future tense, but it is in fact restricted in its use. It has two main functions.
- the first is to talk about unplanned or spontaneous future events;
- the second is for predictions that are not based on current evidence.
Some examples should help to clarify the different meanings:
(The telephone rings) I’ll get it.
I’ll make us a cup of coffee.
In these two cases the speaker is deciding what to do on the spur of the moment without prior consideration. You may have noticed that they act as offers. This is also true of promises or threats like:
- I’ll give you the money back next week.
- I’ll kill you!
- For predictions, we may hear or read sentences like:
- I think it’ll rain tomorrow.
- There’s no way that we will lose the game.
- You will meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger.
This is an unusual compound form since it is made up of the Present Continuous tense of the verbgo with to + the main verb, so it is easy to confuse this with a normal Present Continuous.
am/is/are going to
|I||am (‘m) going to
am not (‘m not) going to
|are (‘re) going to
are not (aren’t) going to
|is (‘s) going to
is not (isn’t) going to
There are two main functions of this tense; the first is to refer to premeditated intentions. Examples of this are:
- I’m going to take a few days off.
- We’re going to visit my parents at the weekend.
The meaning that the speakers want to get across here is that I/we hope that these events will take place, but they are always subject to change if needs be or if some unforeseen obstacle arises. There is a sense of an arrangement, but it has a rather indefinite feel to it.
The second use of this form is for talking about predictions based on present or past evidence. You may remember we said that will is used for referring to predictions that are not reliant on current evidence – going to, on the other hand, is used for those predictions where we can rely on present evidence or past experience. For example:
- Look at those clouds – it’s going to rain.
- Have you heard that Jenny’s going to have a baby?
- Getting up at 4:00 in the morning is going to be a problem.
In the first sentence there is clear, visible evidence that my prediction is likely to come true. It would be, at best, unusual to use any other of the future forms in this situation and, at worst, incorrect. The prediction in the second example is based on information that I have heard directly from Jenny herself or from someone who already had the information. The final sense seems to be based on my past experience of getting up early in the morning.