While the English language has past and present tenses, it does not have a future tense. To say what will happen in the future, you can use the modal auxiliary will (plus the base form of the main verb), the verb phrase be going to (plus the base form of the main verb, the present simple or the present progressive, but be careful. There are times when one is preferred over the others.
The Present Simple Tense for Future Events
The present simple tense is used to talk about future events that have been scheduled. Examples would be meetings, timetables, airline schedules, etc. See the examples below.
Hurry up! I don't want to miss any of the game. It starts at 1:00.
The meeting is in the boardroom. It begins at 10:00.
He'll be here soon. His plane arrives at 6:45.
The Present Progressive Tense for Future Events
In English, we often use the present progressive (be + verb + ing) to talk about future events which have already been planned. Time words in the sentence, such as next week, next year, tomorrow, etc., make it clear that the action is not happening at this moment.
Be careful. Verbs that describe states rather than actions are not used in the progressive form. These include words like know, believe, hear, love seem own and need. Study the examples below.
I'm playing golf with some friends on Saturday. (correct)
I'm needing a ride to work tomorrow. (incorrect)
In the first example, the speaker is talking about an action that has been planned. The use of the words on Saturday tell us that the action is not happening now. The use of the verb need in the second example is incorrect. Need is used to show a state or condition rather than an action. Therefore, it is wrong to use it in the progressive form. The chart below shows more words that are not used in the progressive form.
Verbs Not Used in the Progressive
|(a) Verbs describing feelings or attitude||like, prefer, appear, seem, want, look, love, hate, appreciate, dislike, need|
|(b) Verbs showing ownership||possess, belong, own, have|
|(c) Verbs associated with the senses||smell, see, hear, taste|
|(d) Verbs concerning mental activity||forget, remember, understand, know, believe, mean, recognize, think|
Note: Some of these words can be used in the progressive form with changes in meaning.
I have been meaning to write her. (The speaker was intending to write to her.)
I'm sorry. Miss Jones is seeing a client at the moment. Would you mind waiting? (Miss Jones is with a client.)
You will be hearing from my attorney! (My attorney will be contacting you.)
Will or Be Going To?
When English speakers predict what they think will happen or become true in the future, they can use either will or be going to. Look at the example sentences below.
We'd better cancel the picnic. The weather person says we will have heavy rain on the weekend.
We'd better cancel the picnic. The weather person says we are going to have heavy rain on the weekend.
In both cases, the speakers are making predictions about the weather on the weekend. There is no difference in meaning between the first example and the second. However, there are a number of situations when it is better to use will than be going to, and vice versa.
Expressing Future Events with Will
We use will + the base form of the main verb in these situations.
|To talk about things that we think will happen
(In such cases we often use words such as “I think” or “probably”.)
|James will probably study history at university.||I know James is interested in history. Therefore I guess or predict that he will study history in the future.|
|For official or formal announcements concerning future events||The graduation dinner will take place on June 3rd of this year.||Any type of ceremony, including a graduation ceremony, is a formal or important event. Therefore, the use of will is appropriate here.|
|For promises or offers related to the future
(In such cases, we are expressing willingness.)
|You forgot your wallet. Don't worry. I'll lend you some money.
The phone is ringing. Don't get up. I'll answer it.
|In each case, the speaker is expressing a willingness to help the listener.|
|For decisions concerning future events that are made while talking||Person A: The car is very dirty.
Person B: You're right. I'll wash it after lunch.
|Before this conversation, Person B was not planning to wash the car after lunch. He decided to do so because of something Person A said. In other words, he made his decision to wash the car during the conversation.|
|When making serious promises||Don't worry. I won't forget to pay you back the money.
I'll take care of your house while you're out of the country. Don't worry about a thing.
I'll never forgive him!
|In each case, the speaker is expressing a promise to do something in the future.|
Shall was used in the past for the affirmative will. Today however, the forms I will or we will are preferred. Nevertheless, shall is still used in questions about the future that make offers and suggestions or ask for advice.
What shall we do if they don't come soon? (asking for advice.)
It's hot in here. Shall I open a window? (making an offer)
Shall we try to finish the project today? (making a suggestion)
Using Be Going To
We use be going to + the base form of the main verb in these situations.
|Use “Be Going To”||Example||Explanation|
|For prediction —
We use be going to + the base form of the main verb to make a prediction about the future based on our sense of sight, smell, taste, hearing or touch. In other words, something about the present causes us to think an action will happen very soon or immediately.
|Something smells good. Dinner is going to be delicious.||The speaker is making a prediction about a future meal based on what his sense of smell tells him in the present.|
|The sun is shining and there's not a single cloud in the sky. It's going to be a nice day.||The speaker is making a prediction based on what (s)he sees.|
|For a plan —
We use be going to + the base form of the main verb to talk about future events which have already been planned.
|Last year we went to Hawaii for our vacation. This year we are going to take a cruise to Alaska. After work I'm going to play squash with a friend.||The speaker is talking about a planned event.|
|For informal situations —
We use be going to + the base form of the main verb when we talk about informal situations involving future actions.
|Mom and Dad are going to be angry when they see the mess you've made. You'd better clean it up before they get home.||This is an informal situation between two siblings.|