One of the easiest tenses to master in English is the future tense, you’ll be happy to know. When we talk about things that are about to happen in the future, we have a choice of three different ways, depending on what we are saying.
There are three main ways of using the future are:
Using ‘will’ to speak about the future
Forming a sentence in the future using ‘will’ is quite simple. We insert this modal verb BEFORE our main verb, like so:
‘I will (I’ll) try to help you later.’
There are three verbs in this sentence. Will is our modal verb, which tells us that this is future tense. Try is our main verb, and help is an extra verb coming later on – it’s not important here. Will should always come before the main verb – no other verbs.
Now, WHY do we use ‘will’ sometimes, and not at other times? Well, here are the times when we should use ‘will’.
- When making a quick decision to do something:
‘I’m thirsty. I think I will (or I’ll) buy a drink.’
‘You’re cold? I’ll close the window.’
I will is usually changed to the shortened version here. It doesn’t have to be, but you’ll sound a bit robotic if you use the long version. So try to get into the habit of saying I’ll instead of I will. You’ll sound much more like a native speaker!
These decisions are made in a split second – not planned far ahead in advance. For these quick decisions, we always use will.
Sometimes teachers also talk about using ‘will’ when we make offers to help people, but I think they can also come into the category of quick decisions, and the fewer categories there are – the easier it will be for you to remember them all!
- When making a promise to someone:
‘Don’t worry. I will not (won’t) tell anyone.’
‘Sure. I will (I’ll) do it later, I promise.’
Note how I’ve included the short versions in brackets here, because you should really learn to use the short version as mentioned before.
Again, this could always come under the category of a quick decision. It is entirely up to you how you arrange these uses to help yourself remember.
- A threat:
‘If you don’t stop doing that, I’ll tell your mother.’
A threat is a decision made on the spot, in an attempt to fix a situation. Again – it’s another quick decision!
- A refusal:
‘I won’t do it!’
‘She won’t listen to anything I say!’
A refusal is something, more often than not, that we decide upon very quickly. If we planned it ahead, we would probably use another kind of grammar – and I’ll go into the shortly. So, it’s another quick decision. Therefore, all of these uses can be grouped together.
Using ‘going to’ to speak about the future
Another way to form the future tense is to use ‘going to’. Here’s how we use it:
‘I am going to study later today.’
‘I am going to go to Dubai on holiday.’
‘She is going to play football at 2pm.’
Here we need to use the verb ‘to be’ + ‘going to’ – so we need two things to form it. After ‘going to’ we should then insert the main verb in its root form.
Sometimes when you’re watching movies, do you ever hear the word, ‘gonna’?
This is actually called a reduction, and it means ‘going to’ but in its spoken form only, some people make it as short as possible by saying ‘gonna’. You can use this with friends and family, and in casual situations with people you know well, but be careful – don’t use it in formal situations where you want to sound like you speak well – for example a job interview! And NEVER use it in writing!
So, when do we use ‘going to’?
- A plan that is already made:
When you’ve already decided to do something and it was a decision made earlier, not on the spot like we saw above, then we use ‘going to’. This means that it’s a firm plan and not just an idea.
‘I am going to the cinema on Tuesday.’
Perhaps you have already bought your tickets or made a plan with a friend to see a particular movie at a given time, but even if you haven’t – to use ‘going to’ this means you’re sure that you’re going to the cinema on that day. Compare this to:
‘I think I will go to the cinema on Tuesday.’
Using ‘will’ indicates that it’s not a firm plan, just an idea or thought in your head at this point in time.
- Evidence or signs of something:
‘It’s 6-0 – my team is going to win!’
‘There are dark clouds in the sky. I think it’s going to rain.’
Again, you can be fairly sure of something because of the evidence and so this puts it into the ‘going to’ use.
I like to think of it this way:
If it’s a certainty or it’s planned, then more than likely you use ‘going to’, but if it’s more of an idea or a quick, unplanned decision, then you use ‘will’.
However, there is something to note that might help you relax a little if you’re already confused with all the uses – with future tense, if you use the wrong form – we will still understand! You will hear some people, even native English speakers, using the wrong expressions at times and this is perfectly normal because the line between these two uses is not very strong. And not everyone is so good at grammar!
Using the Present Continuous to speak about the future
You’ll be pleased to discover that my students tell me this is the easiest way to use the future tense, and I agree. Now, we can’t use it all the time because in some cases it would just sound strange! But we can use it a lot.
Here’s how it looks:
‘I’m meeting my friend for coffee later.’
‘She’s playing football in the stadium at 5.’
‘I’m flying to Jeddah tomorrow morning.’
‘Are you coming to the theatre tonight?’
As you can see – I’ve added future time markers to the end of these sentences because if I didn’t, it would sound like it’s happening now. The present continuous is used to talk about things that are happening at the moment UNLESS we use a word that indicates the future.
We use words like these:
- Later, tonight, tomorrow, this weekend
- Next week, next month, next year
- On Tuesday, Thursday
- In January, February, August
It’s important to use a time marker to be clear with whom you’re speaking that it’s not happening right now, but in the future.
We use the present continuous tense in a very similar way to ‘going to’ – with set plans that have already been made. You would not use it to talk about ideas you have – that’s where you use ‘will’ or even ‘might’.
Now, let’s see how much you’ve understood by doing a small exercise. This exercise focuses on the two first uses of the future tense, since these ones are the slightly more difficult of the three. Circle the correct option (going to or will) and then scroll down to check your answers! Good luck! J
- He is going to/will study for the test tomorrow.
- I doubt that he is going to/will pass the English test.
- During summer vacation we are going to/will go swimming every day.
- Oh look! It is going to/will snow soon!
- Be careful! You are going to/will drop the dishes.
- Ring ring! I am going to/will answer it.
- Look out! That dog is going to/will bite you if you go near it.
- Next Saturday we are going to/will attend a football game.
- I think it is going to/will be at a stadium near by.
- My brother is going to/will buy tickets tonight.
- He’s going to study for the test tomorrow.
- I doubt that he’ll pass the English test.
- During summer vacation we’re going to go swimming every day.
- Oh look! It’s going to snow soon!
- Be careful! You’re going to drop the dishes.
- Ring ring! I’ll answer it.
- Look out! That dog’s going to bite you if you go near it.
- Next Saturday we’re going to attend a football game.
- I think it’ll be at a stadium near by.
- My brother’s going to buy tickets tonight.