Aspects of the Future Tense

Definition

Although English has no future tense in the strict sense (i.e., it has no verb form specific to future meaning), we commonly refer to several structures that are used for future meaning as belonging to the “future tense.” The most common of these structures begin with will or a form of the verb be + going to. For example:
  • “I will go with you.”
  • “I am going to send you an email.”
While these verb markers tell us that the action takes place in the future, it is the aspect of the verb that tells us how the event will be temporally structured. The combination of the future marker and the aspect results in the verb structures that we usually call the future simple, the future continuous (or future progressive), the future perfect, and the future perfect continuous.
For the purpose of clarity, our example sentences will all use will, but it should be remembered that, in each of the examples, we can replace will with another modal verb of future meaning (shall, might, would, could, etc.) or with a form of be + going to.

Future Simple

The future simple structure is the combination of the future tense and the simple aspect. The future simple is used to express actions and events that will occur at a given moment in the future. The simple aspect emphasizes the action or state as a whole. The structure is formed using will + the base form of the verb (the infinitive without to). For example:
  • “We will go to a private school when we are older.”
  • “They will move next door to us soon.”
  • “I will be famous in the future.”

Future Continuous

The future continuous structure is the combination of the future tense with the continuous aspect. It is used to express actions and events that will be in progress at a given moment in the future. The future continuous is formed using will + be + the present participle. For example:
  • “They will be playing outside when their father arrives.”
  • “I won’t answer my phone later because I’ll be driving.”
  • “We will be eating dinner at 7 o’clock.”
Like other structures that reflect the continuous aspect, it is usually only used with action verbs, not with stative verbs. For example, we couldn’t say “I will be knowing John later” or “She will be seeming sad this evening.”

Future Perfect

The future perfect is the combination of the future tense and the perfect simple aspect. It is used to express actions and events that will be completed at a given moment in the future. It is formed using will + have + the past participle. For example:
  • “She will have eaten before she arrives.”
  • “We will have seen that movie already.”
  • “I will have spent a lot of money after this weekend’s festivities.”

Future Perfect Continuous

Finally, the future perfect continuous is the combination of the perfect and continuous aspects with the future tense. It is used to emphasize that an action will be in progress until a given moment in the future, at which time the action will stop. Like the future continuous, it is typically not used with stative verbs, but only with action verbs. It is formed using will + have + been + the present participle. For example:
  • “We will have been waiting for a long time when the bus finally comes.”
  • “My little sister will have been sitting quietly for an hour when the movie finishes.”
  • “I will have been cleaning all day when you arrive, so I’ll be too tired to go out.”
Quiz

1. Which of the following is in the future simple form?





2. Which of the following is in the future perfect form?





3. Which of the following is in the future perfect continuous form?





4. Which of the following structures is used to emphasize an action that will be in progress at a particular moment in the future?





5. Which of the following sentences emphasizes the completion of a future action before another action in the future?





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