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Talking about the future

Level: intermediate

When we know about the future, we normally use the present tense.

1. We use the present simple for something scheduled:

We have a lesson next Monday.
The train arrives at 6.30 in the morning.
The holidays start next week.
It's my birthday tomorrow.

2. We can use the present continuous for plans or arrangements:

I'm playing football tomorrow.
They are coming to see us tomorrow.
We're having a party at Christmas.

3. We use will:

  • when we express beliefs about the future:

It will be a nice day tomorrow.
I think Brazil will win the World Cup.
I'm sure you will enjoy the film.

  • to mean want to or be willing to:

I hope you will come to my party.
George says he will help us.

  • to make offers and promises :

I'll see you tomorrow.
We'll send you an email.

  • to talk about offers and promises:

Tim will be at the meeting.
Mary will help with the cooking.

4. We use be going to:

  • to talk about plans or intentions:

I'm going to drive to work today.
They are going to move to Manchester.

  • to make predictions based on evidence we can see:

Be careful! You are going to fall(= I can see that you might fall.)
Look at those black clouds. I think it's going to rain(= I can see that it will rain.)

5. We use will be with an -ing form for something happening before and after a specific time in the future:

I'll be working at eight o'clock. Can you come later?
They'll be waiting for you when you arrive.

6. We can use will be with an -ing form instead of the present continuous or be going to when we are talking about plans, arrangements and intentions:

They'll be coming to see us next week.
I'll be driving to work tomorrow.

7. We often use verbs like would like, plan, want, mean, hope, expect to talk about the future:

What are you going to do next year? I'd like to go to university.
We plan to go to France for our holidays.
George wants to buy a new car.

8. We use modals may, might and could when we are not sure about the future:

I might stay at home tonight or I might go to the cinema.
We could see Mary at the meeting. She sometimes goes.

9. We can use should if we think there's a good chance of something happening:

We should be home in time for tea.
The game should be over by eight o'clock.

Talking about the future 1

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Talking about the future 2

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The future in time clauses and if-clauses 

In time clauses with words like when, after, until we often use present tense forms to talk about the future:

I'll come home when I finish work.
You must wait here until your father comes.
They are coming after they have had dinner.

In clauses with if we often use present tense forms to talk about the future:

We won't be able to go out if it is raining.
If Barcelona lose tomorrow, they will be champions.

 

Be careful!
We do not normally use will in time clauses and if-clauses:

I'll come home when I finish work. (NOT will finish work)
We won’t be able to go out if it rains(NOT will rain)

but we can use will if it means want to or be willing to:

I will be very happy if you will come to my party.
We should finish the job early if George will help us.

Comments

Hello Baloch Faisal,

The traditional rule which you refer to ('shall' for first person use) is not accurate; speakers in all varieties of English use both 'shall' and 'will' with all subject pronouns and nouns.  In modern English, 'will' is more common and 'shall' sounds quite formal and often old-fashioned.  In most contexts there is no difference in the meaning, however we cannot use 'shall' to describe typical behaviour/habits:

He will (not shall) often work late into the night.

This is the most common distinction, but there are some other differences in use in specific contexts and there is a distinction in use in legal English.  For a detailed summary of this, see this page.

In both of your sentences it is possible to use both 'shall' and 'will'.  As the first sentence is much more formal 'shall' is perhaps more likely.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir Peter M,
that page you referred me, it is wikipedia free encyclopedia, if i was that much intelligent to understand things individually without any help, then i would not asked you,

Hello Baloch Faisal,

As I said in a previous reply, we must deal with a large number of queries and comments here on LearnEnglish every day and it's simply not possible for us to provide comprehensive grammatical explanations in the comments sections.  Our role here is to provide help for learners in terms of understanding and using the materials on the site, and to provide help with specific queries about language items - as we have in this case.  However, we cannot provide language lessons in the comments as we have to reply to large numbers of questions every day.  Therefore, while we are happy to give help on particular examples and/or issues, we aren't able to detail every feature of a given language area such as every possible use of shall and will, and all the possible differences in use and meaning.  That, really, is a job for a teacher and goes beyond the role of this site.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, about expressing the future I need to know if the follow sentences are correct:
A) You two look really shocked.What's the matter?
B)We've just learnt that we're having twins!
Thanks.

Hello pensionatostudente,

Both sentences look fine to me, though A doesn't refer to the future.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hello, i need to ask you something about plan n promise. can I write like this?
1. I am going to tell you my secrets tomorrow.
2. I will tell you my secrets tomorrow.
how to differentiate them?in this case, i dont know the difference between plan and promise because i think i can make my promise into plan .
thank you

Hello agangani,

In these uses 'going to' describes and action which we have thought about before we do it (this is why we describe it as a 'plan'), whereas 'will' describes an action that is spontaneous or not previously thought about.  Your first sentence, therefore, suggests that telling the secrets is something you have thought about and decided before, and now you are telling someone of that choice.  Your second sentence suggests that you have just this moment decided to do this, without really thinking about it before.

Please remember, however, that the use of different future forms in English is very much dependent on (a) the speaker's intentions and (b) the context.  That means that there are usually several possible forms in any given situation which you can correctly use; which you choose depends upon your perspective of the action/situation.  The two sentences you give here are good examples of this as both are quite correct and quite possible.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Many thanks Peter! that helps a lot!!!

Hello,
I'm trying to help my 14 yrs old daughter (French is her mother tongue and learning English at school) with the future tense, and my my knowledge of grammar is not very good.  She has some examples and wonders why is one and not the other:
-" Will you go to Italy?"  or "Are you going to Italy?"
- "I am visiting my aunt tomorrow" or "I am going to visit my aunt tomorrow"
- "I think is going to snow soon" or "I think it will snow soon"
- "I am sure you are not going to fail your exam next week" or "I am sure you will fail your exam next week".
If the principles of plans, intentions, promises are more or less clear it is difficult to reflect it in the exercises.
Thanks a lot!
 

Hello Pelusa1960,

The key to choices such as these is the context, because it is the context which tells us how far a given action is planned, arranged and so on.  As these sentences are provided without context, we have to make assumptions about the most likely context for each.  That said, the most likely choices are as follows:

- "Are you going to Italy?" [this is unlikely to be a decision taken on the spur of the moment, so we can assume it is a planned or arranged future]
- "I am visiting my aunt tomorrow" or "I am going to visit my aunt tomorrow" [I can see no preference here without a clear context; both the first (representing an arrangement) and the second option (representing a plan on the part of the speaker) are perfectly possible]
- "I think is going to snow soon" or "I think it will snow soon" [again, both a possible: the first is a prediction based on evidence, such as seeing heavy clouds, while the second is a guess about the future]
- "I am sure you are not going to fail your exam next week" or "I am sure you will fail your exam next week" [again, both are possible, depending on whether there is some kind of evidence available (which would suggest the first option) or there is not and this is simply a guess about the future or a statement of belief (which would suggest the second)].

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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