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Fun with Future Tenses


For VOA Learning English, this is Everyday Grammar.

This week, we are going to talk about the future tenses. There are several ways to talk about future events in English. Compared to the past and present, future tenses are usually more flexible.

Will

Let’s start with will. To form the simple future, use will and then the simple form of the verb. For example, “I will go to the store.” In everyday conversation, will often gets shortened, which can be difficult for English learners to hear. For example, “I’ll leave tomorrow” or “He’ll go to the store.” You can use will to express a desire to do something. “I’ll help you move tomorrow” or “I’ll answer the phone.”

Be going to

The second form of the simple future is be going to. For example, “I am going to start a new job tomorrow.” Use be going to when you already have a plan to do something. When you say “I’m going to start a new job tomorrow,” you made the plan in the past. If you do not have a plan, use will.

If you are making a prediction about the future, you can use will or be going to. You can say, “She will win the election” or “She is going to win the election”—the meaning is the same.

In casual conversation, most Americans will change going to to gonna. Listen for gonna in this song by rock band Twisted Sister.

We’re not gonna take it
No, we ain’t gonna take it
We’re not gonna take it anymore

Be careful with this expression. You might want to avoid using the reduced form, gonna, in formal situations. You should never use it in professional or academic writing.

Shall

Another way to express the future is with shall. Shall has the same meaning as will to express the future. Listen to a famous speech by American General Douglas MacArthur. General MacArthur is talking about his escape from the Philippines during World War II.

“When I landed on your soil, I said to the people of the Philippines whence I came, ‘I shall return.’”

“I shall return” is one of the most famous quotes related to World War II.

But these days, shall seems very formal and a bit old-fashioned in American English. It is more common in British English.

Present progressive and simple present

Sometimes a present tense can express the future. Imagine you have a flight to Chicago tomorrow. There are several ways to express the future in this situation. Since you have a plan, you can use be going to. “I am going to fly to Chicago tomorrow.”

You could also use the present progressive, “I am flying to Chicago tomorrow.” The meaning is almost the same. The present progressive just emphasizes that the flight is a scheduled event.

If you are referring to a fixed schedule or timetable, you can even use the simple present to express the future. For example, “The flight to Chicago arrives at 7:00.” The simple present here shows that the flight has a regular set schedule.

Future progressive

Let’s move on to the future progressive. To form the future progressive, use will be followed by the –ing form of the verb. For example, “I will be working when you arrive.” Use the future progressive to talk about an event that will be in progress (or unfinished) in the future. Speakers use the future progressive to talk about more than one future action. For example, “Don’t call me after 9:00 because I will be studying” or “I will be sleeping when you get home.”

Listen to the future progressive in this popular love song by Richard Marx.

Wherever you go, whatever you do

I will be right here waiting for you

There are other ways to express the future, such as the future perfect and future perfect progressive, but they are rare. A native speaker may never use them in an entire lifetime.

Common mistakes

Let’s look at some common mistakes we see in all of the future tenses we have discussed. First, remember that you cannot use will in a time clause. For example, “I am going to visit her when I will arrive” should be “I am going to visit her when I arrive.” The when phrase, also known as a time clause, uses the simple form of the verb in a future tense.

Another common mistake is with the third person –s. “He will meets me tomorrow” should be “He will meet me tomorrow.”

There is quite a bit of flexibility with future tenses; sometimes there is little or no difference among different forms. If you have a choice, use the simplest tense.

We’ll leave you a song of hope about the future by Bob Dylan. Listen to the variety of future tenses he uses in “When the Ship Comes In.”

The fishes will laugh as they swim out of the path

And the seagulls they’ll be a-smiling

And rocks on the sand they will proudly stand

The hour that the ship comes in

And the words that are used for the get the ship confused

Will not be understood as the spoken

For the chains of the sea will have busted in the night

And be buried on the bottom of the ocean

For VOA Everyday Grammar, I’m Jill Robbins.

And I’m Jonathan Evans.

Adam Brock wrote this story for Learning English. Jill Robbins was the editor.

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Words in This Story

prediction - n. a statement about what will happen or might happen in the future

present progressive - gramm. The verb tense that indicates continuing action, something going on now. This tense is formed with the helping "to be" verb, in the present tense, plus the present participle of the verb (with an -ing ending)

simple present - gramm. The form of the verb that is usually the same as the base form, but the third person singular adds -s. Some verbs change, like 'to be', which uses 'am', 'are' and 'is', and 'to have', where the third person is 'has'. The auxiliary verb 'to do' is used in a negative structure or a question

future progressive - gramm. The verb tense expressing continuing action, something that will be happening, going on, at some point in the future. This tense is formed with the modal "will" plus "be," plus the present participle of the verb (with an -ing ending)

Now it’s your turn. Write to us in the comments section. Make a prediction about the future using one of these ways of talking about the future.

For more fun, try our new video quiz! See quiz in the left column.

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