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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


Talking about the future 2


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.


Is there any future tense in English Language in fact like two other conventional tenses?

Hello Ataur Rahman,
No. Linguists distinguish two tenses in English. These are usually called present and past, though many linguists prefer the terms past and non-past. Instead of a tense, English uses a range of different forms to refer to future time.
Sometimes 'will' is described as the future tense, but 'will' is actually a modal verb like 'might', 'should' and 'may'. It functions in the same way and, like other modal verbs, it often refers to the future.

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, The LearnEnglish Team.
You have answered a large number of learners' questions so far. (Many thanks for being so helpful!) Beyond any doubt you have extensive experience. Could you please help once again? Taking into consideration the grammar explained above, do you think it is acceptable to say: The conference is starting at 9.15 in the City hall. INSTEAD OF The conference starts at 9.15 in the City hall. And The delegation is leaving London tonight at 11 a.m. INSTEAD OF The delegation leaves London tonight at 11 a.m.
I have looked through quite a few websites. Still, I haven't been lucky to find the answer. Some say it is quite possible to use Present Continuous in the sentences mentioned above as long as they refer to the near future. Is that true? Or it is ONLY Present Simple to be used in the sentences mentioned earlier? Your reply will be the ANSWER. Thank you very much.

Hello Yuriy UA

Both forms are grammatically correct, but one or the other is more correct or appropriate depending on the context, as is described above. If you are speaking about a timetable, the present simple is more appropriate, whereas, for example, if you want to emphasise that you need to to be in City Hall by 9.15 and you can see that your companions are moving slowly, the present continuous form could be appropriate.

English verb tenses (and verb tenses in all the languages I know, for that matter) have several different uses and context is always essential in determining which one to use.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Just been on the Teaching English site, brilliant just what I need. Thanks

Hi Kirk,
Thanks for the quick response and advice.

I am a TEFL teacher and I struggle to explain clearly the possible uses of the future tenses. Do you have a suggestion for a simplified way of delivering the uses of the future tenses, please?

Hello DM817

I might recommend not covering more than a couple of uses at a time and choosing two where there is a clear contrast or difference between them.

I'd also suggest checking our sister site, TeachingEnglish, and asking this same question there. I expect you will find some discussion of this topic there, and if not, you can ask the community of teachers there and get lots of ideas, I'm sure.

Good luck!

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Can I say: close your eyes I will surprise you. Guess what I've bought for you
close your eyes I'm going to surprise you. Guess what I've bought for you

Which is more natural
What he says today will change the next day. He eats his words
What he says today changes the next day. He eats his words

Hello Shaban Nafea

It would be more natural to use 'going to' in this case since you are speaking about an intention and plan to surprise the other person.

In the second pair of sentences, if you are speaking about the way this person is in general -- in other words, if he does this kind of thing regularly -- then the second one (with present tense) would communicate this idea. The first one would be better for speaking about about one specific situation.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team