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Future Tense

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English

The future tense is one of the three main verb tenses in the English language, along with the past tense and the present tense. Although some grammarians argue that there are only two real verb tenses in English, the past and the present, it's now widely accepted that the future tense is a main verb tense; therefore, we've written this explanation all about it for you!

Future tense definition

We use the future tense to talk about an event, action, or state that hasn't yet happened but is expected to happen in the future.

The future tense isn't formed with verb inflections (like the past and present tenses), but with the help of auxiliary verbs, such as will and shall and the words 'going to'. For example, 'I will see you later'.

Let's explore the various ways we can talk about the future in more detail, looking at examples along the way.

Examples of the future tense

Here are some examples of the future tense in context:

  • I think it will rain.
  • Andrea will be able to help you with this.
  • Chloe will be working all day tomorrow.
  • I'll get the phone!
  • It's going to snow tomorrow.
  • I shall have gone home by then.
  • They will have been dating for 10 years in March.

Each of these examples tells us about an event, action, or state that is expected to happen in the future but hasn't yet taken place.

Uses of the future tense

We know that the future tense is used to talk about future events, but let's be more specific about what exactly we can use the future tense to say:

  • Predictions - e.g. 'I think it'll snow tomorrow!'

  • Immediate or spontaneous actions/events - e.g. 'we'll pay!' or 'I'll get the door'

  • Plans and arrangements - e.g. 'I'll meet you outside at 3'

  • Invitations - e.g. 'Will you marry me?'

  • Expressing (un)willingness - e.g. 'I'll give you a lift' or 'he won't leave!'

  • Looking forward to a future event - e.g. 'This time next year I will have finished school'

Although the word 'shall' is also a modal auxiliary verb that can be used to express the future tense, it is a lot less common. It is mostly used to make suggestions or offers e.g. 'shall we go to the zoo and see the monkeys?' or 'shall I pay?'.

Future tense Image of balloon StudySmarterThe future tense can be used to give invitations - Pixabay

Forming the future tense

Believe it or not, some linguists argue that the English language does not have a future tense. So why on earth are we learning about it?

Well, linguists don't mean we can't talk about the future in English, they just mean that English does not have special inflections to form the future tense like we do in the past and present tenses.

When we talk about the past we use the inflection -ed (e.g. 'danced') with the verb root, as well as irregular verb forms (e.g. 'grew').

When we talk about the present we can use the inflection -ing with the verb root to show a continuous present tense action (e.g. 'I am walking').

Instead of using inflections, we can form the future tense using the modal auxiliary verb 'will' along with the verb root, e.g. ‘I will call you tomorrow’.

We can also form the future tense using the word construction 'going to', e.g. 'I'm going to the cinema tonight' (We will cover this in more detail later).

Types of future tense

Each of the three main tenses (past, present, and future) is divided into four aspects. Aspect shows us the time-related characteristics of a sentence, indicating whether an action/state is ongoing, completed, or repeated.

The four aspects are: simple, continuous (progressive), perfect, and perfect continuous (or perfect progressive).

The 'continuous' tense is also known as the 'progressive' tense. These terms are interchangeable.

Let's look at how we can combine the future tense verb 'will' with aspects to talk about the future in different ways.

Future simple tense

The future simple tense is used to refer to an action, event, or state that begins and ends in the future.

It does not state whether this action will be completed or ongoing, but simply states the fact that an action will be or is expected to be carried out.

You can form the future simple tense by using this formula:

Subject + will + verb root (i.e. the infinitive without the word 'to')

The future simple tense is mostly used for spontaneous/immediate decisions or predictions. Take a look at these examples:

When I'm rich, I will live in a mansion. (prediction)

I'll get the door! (immediate decision)

I'll do my homework later. (immediate decision/prediction)

In the future, robots will rule the world. (prediction)

Other ways to form the future simple tense include the following:

Negative
Subject + will not (won't) + verb root (the infinitive without 'to')e.g. They won't find us here!e.g. She won't like the zoo.
Interrogative
Will/shall + subject + verb root (the infinitive without 'to') eg. Shall I pick you up later?eg. Will we see the monkeys?

Future continuous (progressive) tense

The future continuous tense is used to describe an ongoing action or state in the future. It shows that something is expected to continue for a certain period of time and that the action/event is unfinished.

You can form the future continuous tense by using this formula:

Subject + will + be + present participle (root verb + -ing)

Let's look at some examples:

  • I will be arriving on the train tomorrow.

  • We will all be watching the show on Friday.

  • Amy and David will be competing against each other.

The continuous aspect can only be used with action verbs because it is possible to complete them within a certain amount of time. Stative verbs that express a state of being cannot be used with the continuous aspect. For example, we would not say 'I will be loving you on Friday'.

Other ways to form the future progressive tense include the following:

Negative
Subject + will not (won't) + be + verb root + -inge.g. Ella won't be sleeping e.g. We won't be going later
Interrogative
Will + subject + be + verb root + -ingeg. Will I be picking you up later?eg. Will we be seeing the monkeys?

Future tense Image of a monkey StudySmarterWill we be seeing monkeys? I hope so! - Pixabay


Future perfect tense

The future perfect tense is used to talk about an action/event that will be completed between now and a certain time in the future, or before another action/event takes place.

You can form the future perfect tense by using this formula:

Subject + will have + past participle

Let's look at some examples:

  • I will have left by then.
  • Vicky will have gone by the time you get back.
  • Everyone will have eaten by 8 pm.

Other ways to form the future perfect tense include the following:

Negative
Subject + will not (won't) + have + past participlee.g. Ella will not have slepte.g. We won't have eaten all day
Interrogative
Will + subject + have + past participle eg. Will she have slept?eg. Will we have eaten?

Future perfect continuous (progressive) tense

The future perfect continuous tense looks forward to an action/event that will happen in the future. Like the future continuous tense, we only use this verb tense with action verbs.

You can form the future continuous perfect tense by using this formula:

Subject + will have + been + present participle (root form + -ing)

Let's look at some examples:

  • In March, we will have been dating for three years.

  • On Thursday, Ritchie will have been working here for a month.

  • By five o'clock, she will have been waiting for 45 minutes.

In each example, we are projecting ourselves into the future and looking back to an unfinished, continuous action or event.

Other ways to form the future perfect progressive tense include the following:

Negative
Subject + will not (won't) + have + been + verb root + -inge.g. Ella won't have been sleeping e.g. We won't have been working
Interrogative
Will + subject + have + been + past participleeg. Will she have been running?eg. Will we have been working all day?

Other ways to talk about the future

Using the modal auxiliary verb 'will' isn't the only way in which we can talk about the future. We can also talk about actions/events that haven't yet happened using a combination of other tenses and aspects.

As discussed, there are no inflections in the English language that mark verbs as being the future tense. We can therefore refer to the future using other constructions.

Take a look at the following examples:

Using the present continuous (progressive) tense

The present continuous tense is often used to express an event that is already planned for the future.

We can use the following formula:

Subject + [am/are/is] + present participle (root form + -ing) + timestampTake a look at the following examples:

  • Paul is moving to New York next year.
  • Liam is going snowboarding at the weekend.
  • I'm playing football with Becky on Friday.

The sentences are in the present progressive tense however the timestamp (e.g. 'Friday') lets us know that the event is planned for the future.

Using the 'going to' + infinitive to talk about the future

We can also refer to the future using the construction 'going to' e.g. 'I'm going to play hockey later'. This is not considered a tense, but rather a construction that we can use to talk about the future.

We use the following formula when using 'going to':

Subject + [am / are / is] + going to + base form of the verb

We commonly use the construction 'going to' when talking about predictions (i.e. what we think is going to happen) or intentions (i.e. we've decided to do something).

Take a look at the following examples:

  • You're going to miss the bus! (prediction)
  • Be careful, it's going to be stormy tomorrow (prediction)
  • Abi says she's going to go on holiday this year (intention)
  • I'm going to buy a big house when I have the money (intention)

Using the present simple tense

We can also use the simple present tense to talk about future events that have been scheduled. This is often scheduled meetings, flights, timetables, etc.

Hurry up! The train leaves at 9:30.

The really important meeting begins at 3 pm.

In these sentences, the simple present tense is used to express scheduled events that are happening in the near future.

Future Tense - Key Takeaways

  • The main function of the future tense is to express an action (or state of being) that has not yet happened but is expected to happen in the future.

  • We can use the future tense to talk about plans, predictions, make invitations, express willingness, make suggestions, look back at a future event, and much more.
  • The four future verb tenses are: future simple tense, future continuous (progressive) tense, future perfect tense, and future perfect progressive (continuous) tense.

  • We form the future tense using the modal auxiliary verb 'will' + the verb root.

  • We can also talk about the future using a combination of other tenses and aspects.

Future Tense

The future tense is one of the three main verb tenses in the English language. It is used to express an action/state of being that has not yet happened but is expected to happen in the future. The future tense is the form of the verb preceded by the modal auxiliary verb 'will', as in, 'I will see you later'. 

The past, present, and future tenses are the three main tense types. The past tense describes something that has already happened, the present tense describes something that is currently happening, and the future tense describes something that is expected to happen.

An example of the future tense is 'I will go to Edinburgh tomorrow' as this sentence describes an event that has not yet happened but is expected to happen in the near future.

The perfect future tense is formed using the formula: subject + will have + past participle. (For example, 'I will have eaten by 8pm').

The future perfect tense is used to talk about an action/event that will be completed now and a certain time in the future, or before another action/event takes place. (For example, Vicky will have gone by the time you get back.)

Final Future Tense Quiz

Question

What is future tense?

Show answer

Answer

 Future tense describes something that is yet to happen or something that is going to happen.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is written in the future tense?

  1. We are going to the shop now.

  2. We will be going to the shop.

  3. We have gone to the shop.

Show answer

Answer

B.

Show question

Question

What is the formula for future simple tense?

Show answer

Answer

will + root form of the verb 

or 

[am/are/is] + going to + [root form of the verb]

Show question

Question

Which of these is not a future verb tense?

  1. Future continuing/progression tense.

  2. Future continuous/progressive tense.

  3. Future simple tense.

Show answer

Answer

A.

Show question

Question

True or false: Future tense is the most common tense.


Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Can future tense be used in written language?

Show answer

Answer

​Yes.

Show question

Question

Which of these is the formula for perfect future tense?

  1. will have + present participle. 

  2. will have + past participle.

  3. will have + perfect participle.

Show answer

Answer

B.

Show question

Question

True or false: the continuous/progressive future tense only uses action verbs.


Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Which of the following statements are false?

  1. Each tense (past, present, and future) contains four verb tenses. 

  2. Past tense is the most common tense in written language.

  3. The future tense is only used in written language.

Show answer

Answer

C.

Show question

Question

What is a present participle?

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Answer

The verb’s root form + -ing.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is an example of perfect continuous future tense?

  1. On Thursday, I will have been working here for a week.

  2. I will be heading to the dentist later.

  3. Everyone will be there!

Show answer

Answer

A.

Show question

Question

True or false: Simple future tense only uses action verbs.


Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

What are the four future verb tenses?

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Answer

Simple future tense, continuous/progressive future tense, perfect future tense, perfect continuous/progressive future tense.

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Question

Can future tense be used to describe a state that will happen?


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Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

Which two future verb tenses only use action verbs?

Show answer

Answer

Future continuous/progressive tense and future perfect continuous/progressive tense.

Show question

Question

Identify the tense:

I will be there later.

Show answer

Answer

Future simple tense.

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Question

Identify the tense:

She will be visiting in the summer

Show answer

Answer

Future continuous tense

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Question

Identify the tense:

He will have been studying for two years in March

Show answer

Answer

Future perfect continuous tense 

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Question

Identify the tense:

I will have completed it by then.

Show answer

Answer

Future perfect tense.

Show question

Question

True or false, the future tense can be used to talk about the tense?

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

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