The Future Tenses in English
The future is one of the more difficult tenses for students to fully understand as there are lots of ways to talk about the future.
The most important distinction to be made is the difference between “will” and “going to.” There is also the fact that the present continuous and the present simple tense can be used to talk about the future, which sometimes comes as a shock to some.
After reading this page, knowing how to express the future by using these future tenses should become a lot clearer.
Take a look at the following examples:
- I’ll do it tomorrow.
- I’m going to visit her in spring.
- What are you wearing tonight?
- I will have finished the report by Sunday.
- The train leaves at 7am on Saturday.
- I have a meeting on Friday.
As you can see, there are many ways to express the future. We’re going to go through each of the different future tenses with an explanation, examples and then an exercise. Let’s start with ‘will’.
We use ‘will’ for requests, offers, promises, making decisions in the moment, and also in the first conditional.
- Will you save some cake for me?
- Will you stop making that noise?
- I’ll help you with your things.
- I’m hungry – I’ll make some lunch.
- I promise I’ll do it tomorrow.
- I promise I’ll call you later.
Decisions in the Moment
- Do you want to come to my party? – Sure! I’ll bring some food and drinks.
- Who wants to go to the cinema? – I’ll go.
‘Going to’ is used when you have an intention to do something, or a plan. It differs from ‘will’ as the decision made for a future action was made before the time of speaking. For a detailed look at the difference between ‘going to’ and ‘will’, see going to vs will.
- What are you going to do tomorrow?
- I’m going to go shopping later, do you want anything?
The ‘present continuous’ (or ‘present progressive’) is used to talk about arrangements in the future and is very commonly used. It is similar to ‘going to’ because the decision was made before the time of speaking. It’s important to know that the question, “What are you doing tonight?” is the most common way to ask about the plans that someone has for tonight.
Although the question, “what are you doing?” is used for the near future (as you presume that the person has arrangements or definite plans for the near future), using it in the affirmative and negative statements can be for the near future or in the far distance future. The most important things is to use it for arrangements.
- I’m playing tennis tomorrow at 6pm (it’s an arrangement).
- I’m going to New York for New Year’s Eve.
- What are you wearing tonight?
In a lot of cases, there is no real difference between the present continuous and going to. As a vague rule, the present continuous is used for something that is more definite.
- I’m going to the game on Saturday (I have bought the tickets).
- I’m going to go to the game on Saturday (I may not have bought tickets).
- We’re having a party on Friday night (it’s definitely going to happen).
- We’re going to have a party on Friday night (the time, type of party etc. may not have been arranged).
The ‘future perfect’ is used to say that something will occur before another action (or time) in the future. It is very specific in its use.
- By the time you finish your lunch, I will have had my lunch and finished the report.
- By next week, I will have finished my project.
The ‘present simple’ is used for schedules and timetables. It is especially true for public transport, conferences, lessons and meetings.
- The train leaves at 7am tomorrow.
- We land at 2pm.
- The lesson begins in 20 minutes.
- The conference begins on Thursday.
Practice your future tenses by getting involved in our Facebook discussion (opens in new window). Here is an exercise for you to practice some more.