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 Peter,
It's all clear now.
Thanks a lot for yr help.
Maria

Thank you Peter, I apologise for my misunderstanding. Don't worry, take all the time you need. As the other day I noticed there was "replied on 19 August" on my message but I couldn't actually read it, then I thought something might be wrong with my tablet. That's why I checked with you first.
Sorry if I gave you the impression I was pushing for a quick answer, that wasn't my intention. I know it mustn't be simple for you all and I feel we, students, are lucky to have this great opportunity of English tutors that answer to all our questions.
Thank you again,
Maria

Hi there, I just want to ask why my previous comment seems to have already received a reply on 19th August but I cannot see it..!?!
I hope you can help me understand.
Thanks a lot,
Maria

Hello Maria,

Your earlier question has not been answered yet. We do try to answer all questions but we are a small team here at LearnEnglish and the longer the question, the longer it will take us to get to it. Your question contains many questions, some of which require quite long explanations.

You can read about how the comments sections work on this page.

We will try to answer your question in the next few days.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hallo, I have always had a few doubts about the future tense. Coul you help me to clear them? Here are the sentences:
- I'll be 17 tomorrow BUT Tomorrow it's my birthday (both correct?)
- My plane leaves/arrives in 5 minutes (correct?)
- How long does the movie last? (correct?)
- The T.V. programme is finishing /finishes/ is going to finish/will finish (which one is
correct?) in a few minutes.

If I can, may I also ask, even it's not related to the future but to the p.perfect, if it is grammatically correct to say :
- It's my first time I have been in London ( I' m in London now)
- Is it yr first time you have been in London? (We are in London now)
- It's my first time I have been to london (I'm already back to Italy now)

I'll be grateful if u can answer my questions.
Maria

Hello Maria,

In answer to your questions:

- I'll be 17 tomorrow BUT Tomorrow it's my birthday (both correct?)

- My plane leaves/arrives in 5 minutes (correct?)

- How long does the movie last? (correct?)

All of those are correct.

 

- The T.V. programme is finishing /finishes/ is going to finish/will finish (which one is
correct?) in a few minutes.

I would say that that is finishing is not a form that is likely in this context as it tends to be used to describe an arrangement of some kind between people or institutions. You might say this if you were describing something else, such as a game of tennis between people or a meeting. The other options are all fine. Finishes reflects the idea that a TV programme is part of a schedule. Is going to finish would suggest that something in the programme (such as the flow of the narrative) makes you believe that it is nearing its end. Will finish might be a guess or might be a statement of certainty because, for example, you have seent he programme before or know what time it is supposed to finish. All of these are possible; the speaker chooses which form she wishes depending on her perspective or choice of emphasis.

 

If I can, may I also ask, even it's not related to the future but to the p.perfect, if it is grammatically correct to say :
- It's my first time I have been in London ( I' m in London now)

We would say '...the first time I have been to...' or '...my first time in...'

 

- Is it yr first time you have been in London? (We are in London now)

Again, either '...your first time in...' or '...the first time you have been to..'

 

- It's my first time I have been to london (I'm already back to Italy now)

Here we would say 'It was the first time I had been to...' or 'It was my first time in...'

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Thanks for the references. If you dont mind, I'd also like to seek your advice with regards to the use of "will" and the present continous "be going to". I seem to be stuck with this notion that will can only be used for future, non-specific events/actions (i.e. non-specific meaning that I cannot use with specific time words or phrases (such as tomorrow at 4pm etc) while "be going to" is used for specific future events/actions, espicially on events of my own choice/volition as opposed to being told/or ordered to do something by someone else. For instance, if I were to say "I will meet him in school tomorrow at 4pm" to mean I intend to do the action of meeting this person in school at 4pm tomorrow, would it be grammatical? Or perhaps I should use "I am going to meet him in school tomorrow at 4pm" instead?

Sorry to pick your brains further, and thanks for your advice!

Hi Tim,

There is nothing ungrammatical about using 'will' with concrete times. We can talk about a meeting which will take place at a concrete time, for example, or an eclipse which will take place at a specific time and place. Your examples seem strange because a concrete time suggests a choice by the speaker which may imply planning, which in turn would suggest 'going to' or present continuous rather than 'will'. The context is key: if seeing a person is my choice at the moment of speaking and not an arrangment with someone else or a previously considered plan then 'will' is likely.

There is nothing ungrammatical about using will in this way; it is simply a question of whether or not an event is planned or arranged in advance.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

Is it grammatical to say "I will be going to school tomorrow at 4pm" to mean I intend to go to scholl tomorrow at 4pm? Or would the correct form instaed be "I am going to school tomorrow at 4pm".

Could you also kindly advise on the difference between will and be going to?

Thanks!

Hello Tim,

You could use present continuous or the form with 'going to' to speak about the intention. The one with present continuous perhaps implies a bit more certainty, but in many contexts there would be no real difference.

'be going to' is used primarly to speak of intentions and 'will' has various uses (e.g. to speak about a decision made in the moment), so it would take a bit of time to explain the differences. In addition to this page, you might also want to take a look at our will or would page and this Cambridge Dictionary page -- scroll down to see the section where these two forms are compared and contrasted.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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