Future Simple Tense

Definition

English verbs do not have unique forms for the future tense; instead, we use different sentence constructions to describe actions that will occur in the future. There are two ways we do this for the future simple tense.
The simplest way we create the future simple tense is by using the modal verb will + the bare infinitive (without to) of the main verb of the sentence, as in, “I will walk to work.”
We can also form the future simple tense by using be going to + the bare infinitive of the main verb, as in “I am going to walk to work.” However, the usages of this construction are slightly different.
For now, we will focus on will constructions; a little later on, we’ll look at how going to can be used to create subtle differences in meaning.

Uses of the future simple tense – will constructions

The future simple tense can be used in a few different ways to describe things that have not happened yet. The structure of the sentence does not change, though, so we generally rely on context or other parts of the sentence to create these differences in meaning.

To predict something

Example:
  • “I think it will rain today.”
This is a prediction; it may be based on fact (i.e., because there are dark storm clouds), or perhaps on current, less tangible evidence (i.e., it “feels” like rain is coming).
  • “Our team will win the game.”
This is also a prediction, which may or may not be based on facts or past experience. We often use the future simple tense for simple predictions that are based on desires.

To make promises

Example:
  • “I will definitely come to the party. You have my word.”
  • “I’ll wash the dishes later.”
Neither of these is a prediction; each is an assurance that something is going to happen. The adverb definitely in the first sentence solidifies this promise, while later in the second sentence lets the reader/listener know when the dishes will be washed.

To describe a future fact

Example:
  • “The president will be in Portland tomorrow.”
  • “I will drive to work tomorrow, if you want a ride.”
These are neither predictions nor promises, but rather are factual statements of thing that are going to happen.

Unplanned actions or decisions

We can also use the future simple when we decide to do something at the moment of speaking, rather than something that was already planned or decided.
For example:
  • Person A: “There’s no milk left.” Person B: “I will get some the next time I’m out.”
  • Person A: “The TV isn’t working, so you won’t be able to watch the football game.” Person B. “I’ll just read a book instead.”

To offer to do something

Example:
Imagine you see your neighbor coming out of the supermarket carrying two heavy shopping bags. You might say:
  • “I’ll help you. Give me one of the bags and I will carry it for you.”
  • If your friend is low on money when you are both out at a coffee shop, you might say:
  • “Don’t worry, I’ll pay for the coffee.”

Negatives

We can achieve strong negative meanings for most of the above uses by adding not or never to will, as in:
  • “Our team will never win the game.” (negative prediction)
  • “I won’t wash the dishes later.” (negative promise; also used for refusals)
  • “He won’t drive to work tomorrow.” (negative future fact)
However, we generally don’t put unplanned decisions or offers in the negative with the will construction, because the sentence ends up describing a negative promise, a refusal, or a negative future fact:
  • “I’ll never read a book.” (negative promise)
  • “I won’t pay for the coffee.” (refusal or negative fact)

Interrogative sentences (questions)

To form questions in the future simple tense, we simply move will before the subject of the sentence. For example:
  • Will it rain today?” (question of a prediction)
  • Will you come to the party?” (question of an intention, promise, or assurance)
  • Will the president be in Portland tomorrow?” (question of a future fact)
  • Will you get some milk the next time you are out?” (an unplanned request, phrased as a question)
We can also use shall instead of will in questions when making offers, as in:
  • Shall I carry that bag for you?”
  • Shall I get some milk the next time I’m out?”
This makes the question more formal and polite.

Going to constructions

In several of the cases we looked at above, we can use be going to in place of will.
For example:
  • “I think it is going to rain today.”
  • “I am going to come to the party.”
  • “The president is going to be in Portland tomorrow.”

Going to for intended future actions

Unlike the will construction, we do not use going to to describe unplanned decisions or offers; instead, we use this construction to express intended, pre-planned actions, as in:
  • Person A: “There’s no milk left.” Person B: “I’m going to get some the next time I’m out.”
  • Person A: “I don’t have any cash.” Person B: “Don’t worry, I am going to pay for the coffees.”
This is also the case if we use going to in one of our previous examples that described a future fact:
  • “I’m going to drive to work tomorrow, if you want a ride.”
When we used the will construction, we were describing something that is considered a concrete fact; now, however, it expresses a planned intention. We can see this in other examples as well:
  • “She’s going to play soccer later.” (She has already decided that this is what she wants to do later.)
  • “He is going to make a cake for us tomorrow.” (This is his plan of action.)
We can also use going to when something is certain or very likely to happen, but not in the immediate future.
For example:
  • “Look at those black clouds. It’s going to rain.” (This is very likely due to the evidence of the weather.)
  • “My mama told me that she’s going to have a baby.” (This is a certainty, but it will not happen right away.)
  • “Hurry up! We’re going to be late.” (This is also evident and very likely. Although it will happen soon, it will not happen immediately.)
Finally, children often use the going to construction when they speak about what they want to be when they grow up, as in:
  • “When I grow up, I’m going to be a police officer.” (At this moment, that is what I intend to be.)

Interrogative sentences using going to

To form interrogative sentences in the future simple tense using the going to construction, we simply put the linking verb be before the subject of the sentence. This is also the case if we use question words. For example:
  • Are you going to see Jennifer later?”
  • Is it going to rain?”
  • What are you going to say to him?”
  • Where are they going to stay?”
Quiz

1. Which modal auxiliary verb is commonly used to create the future simple tense?





2. What is the main function of the going to construction (as compared to the will construction)?





3. What is the following sentence describing?
“I’ll drive to the airport to pick you up, if you like.”





4. What other auxiliary verb can be used instead of will in interrogative sentences in the future simple tense?





5. Which construction would we most likely use to describe something that is certain or very likely to happen, but not in the immediate future?





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