The future continuous (will be + ‘ing’ form) and the future perfect (will have + past participle) tenses are used to talk about events in the future.

Future continuous

  • Don’t ring at 8 o’clock. I’ll be watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
  • This time tomorrow we’ll be sitting on the beach. I can’t wait!

We use the future continuous to talk about something that will be in progress at or around a time in the future.

  • Don’t phone grandma now, she’ll be having dinner.
  • The kids are very quiet. They’ll be doing something wrong, I know it!

These sentences are not about the future but we can use the future continuous to talk about what we assume is happening at the moment.

Future Perfect

  • Do you think you will have finished it by next Thursday?
  • In 5 years time I’ll have finished university and I’ll be able to earn some money at last.

We use the future perfect to say that something will be finished by a particular time in the future.

We often use the future perfect with ‘by’ or ‘in

  • I think astronauts will have landed on Mars by the year 2020.
  • I’ll have finished in an hour and then you can use the computer.

By’ means ‘not later than a particular time’ and ‘in’ means 'within a period of time’. We don’t know exactly when something will finish.

  • I promise I’ll have done all the work by next Saturday.

We don’t know exactly when he will finish the work – maybe Thursday, maybe Friday – but definitely before Saturday. 

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In the sentence "Probably, when these guys *will be* older, they will have the same attitude." I know the first one should be in simple present (when these guys are older, the will have...) but, why? We've always been taught that to use the present to refer to the future, we must be talking abut something planned or scheduled, and this is not the case... Thanks for helping!

Hello claudiaes,

Although in general the present tense is used to refer to the present, in fact it can actually be used to refer to the past (e.g. in stories), the present (e.g. habits) and the future (e.g. fixed plans)! As for this specific context, which is a time clause (this one begins with the word 'when'), the present simple is used here, even though you're referring to the future. You can see a bit more about this on our time clauses page.

By the way, this is very similar to Spanish, which wouldn't allow a future tense here, but rather a present subjunctive. In Catalan and French, a future tense is possible, but I believe a present subjunctive is also possible here, or at least it is in Catalan.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear the LearnEnglish Team,

I've been reading English grammar fora and come across a post about the difference between the use of Future Progressive and that of Present Progresive. Something like 'We use Present Progressive when we talk about arrangements but we have some influence / choice. On the contrary, Future Progressive expresses something inevitable, beyond our power to change'. There are a few examples. I'm seeing my dentist tomorrow (to emphacise I've already booked an arrangement) vs I'll be seeing my dentist tomorrow (to emphacise there's nothing I can do about it, sorry) - btw I'm wondering if you want to convey by this it's impossible to change the plan and like go somewhere else instead or you've got a terrible toothache and just can't wait any longer...
I'm working with Mary tomorrow vs I'll be working with Mary tomorrow (like today is Tuesday and I always work with Mary on Tuesdays?)
I'm meeting with my friends next week vs I'll be meeting with my friends next week (a sort of tradition to meet every week, every month?)
But I also heard the sentences in Future Continuous in videos for EFL learners, e.g. We'll be doing some exercises bla. Maybe because in every video it's done, like a routine?

Have I got it right? Some speakers say all future forms are used pretty interchangeably and maybe I'm just overanalyzing that. I found a sentence 'I'm afraid you will not be coming home tonight' and I can't figure out why Future Progressive is used there.

I'd be happy if you will clarify it.

Thanks in advance,
Elena

Hello Elena,

First of all, there are a couple of other pages that describe different uses of the future continuous that I'd recommend you read. The first is a current BBC Learning English page and the second is an older BBC Learning English page.

I wouldn't say that the future continuous by itself refers to a future event that's impossible to change. Rather, as an instance of the continuous aspect, it shows a different perspective on the future event. It's as if the event is going to happen whether you want it to or not, either because it's already planned or because it's something that you perceive that will happen anyway, despite whatever may happen now. Much of the time both A) 'I'm meeting with Mary tomorrow' and B) 'I'll be meeting with Mary tomorrow' could be used in the same context, but, for example, B could (but not necessarily - context and you the speaker's conception of the event are key) also imply or indicate that you see it as a meeting that will take all your time.

By the way, the future continuous can also be used to make predictions about future periods of time (e.g. 'When I'm 75 years old, I'll be living in Stockholm'). It's really a rather versatile tense!

I hope this helps you a bit.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Dear Kirk,

Thanks a lot for your answer. But I'm afraid I'm still quite confused about that... Were you meaning the Future Continuous can be used interchangeably with other forms like the Present Continuous and 'going to'?
Would you help me get the difference between them if we are talking about the things we've already planned (if there's any)?
e.g. 'I'll be going shopping later. Do you want anything?' (a routine?) vs 'I'm going (to go) shopping later. Do you want anything?'
'I won't be using the car tomorrow. You can have it if you want'. vs 'I'm not going to use the car tomorrow. You can have it if you want'
'Won't you be taking the same train?' vs 'Aren't you going to take the same train?' vs 'Aren't you taking the same train?'

Hello again Elka0507,

I think the key to understanding this use of the future continuous to talk about future plans is the fact that it is a verb form with continuous aspect. Aspect shows how the speaker perceives or experiences a situation - not so much when it occurs but the contour of the event. It's as if you were imagining yourself 'inside' the situation.

You can use the future continuous to talk about an intended or arranged future event (like 'be going to' or present continuous), but by using the future continuous you show that you're thinking of the event as being in progress at that future point in time. It's as if you're thinking of the event from beginning to end and imagine yourself 'inside' the event as it is happening. 'be going to' and the present continuous don't have this same idea.

  • 'be going to' speaks about what one intends to do
  • present continuous speaks about what one has arranged to do
  • future continuous speaks about what one intends (or has arranged) to do with the additional sensation of being 'inside' the event

For example, if I want to meet with you on Thursday at 12.00 and you check your calendar and see you have an appointment at that time, you could use either present or future continuous (e.g. 'Sorry, I'm having lunch with my father'). If you used present continuous, it as if you're thinking about blocks of time (e.g. 12.00-13.00, 13.00-15.00, etc.) on that day, whereas if you use the future continuous, it shows that you're thinking about that moment in time and what you'll be doing inside that moment, e.g. sitting at a table and talking.

I expect this may not be a completely satisfying answer – this is a subtle distinction that is difficult to describe – but if you analyse how native speakers use these tenses in the future with this in mind, it should slowly become clearer (I hope!).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,

Thanks a lot for your answer! You really helped me.

So, here's what I've summarized and written down in my notebook.

Future Continuous:

a) the speakers imagine the situation in the future while talking about it. They are emotionally involved, and this is the key:
e.g. I won't be using my car for work tomorrow (the person sees tomorrow in his mind's eye - either you are anticipating today's flight, let's say, to California and tomorrow's relaxing on the sunny beach and listening to the ocean, or, on the contrary, your car needs repair and you are already feeling as if you were squeezed in a stuffy bus getting to the office in the morning)

I'm not going to use my car for work tomorrow. - there is no emotional colouring, the person only tells about their decision (to have the car fixed or whatever)

b) kind of certainty: the event is either planned or like bound to happen, no matter what is going on at the moment - it's quite reasonable if you already see it.

Thanks again,

Helen

Hello Helen,

That seems a good summary to me. Of course, we are talking about perspective here - how the speaker sees the event - rather than objective facts and so there is always some interpretation and a lot of grey areas. However, I think you have summarised the uses here well.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,

Thanks a lot for your feedback! The more I'm thinking about the English tense system, the more I realize you should have a kind of 'gut feeling' for it to use this or that tense properly. And as Kirk says it takes time and you need a lot of language exposure.

I totally agree with you that each case is context dependent. E.g. I'm taking the sentence from Kirk's answer 'Will you meet me at 12?' 'Sorry. I'll be seeing my father'. The speaker can mean by this:
1) certainty, almost inevitability like 'The meeting is going to happen whatever. I just can't cancel that even if you want me to. No use asking';
2) emphasis on duration - I'm already booked for the WHOLE afternoon but I'll be free in the evening;
3) emotional involvement - I'm all excited about this lunch. I haven't seen my dad for ages or I'm afraid of this meeting and the conversation is going to be hard time;
4) or a combination of those, right?

So I'll be reading and watching in English more to get it.

Helen

Hi sir
Could you tell me which one is true?
We'll know/ we'll have known a bit more this weekend when we'll research the whole thing on the internet.

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