Talking about the future

Learn about the different verb forms you can use to talk about the future, and do the exercises to practise using them.

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.

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Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 03/09/2019 - 08:30

In reply to by paritosh0125

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Hello paritosh0125,

I'm not quite sure what you mean here. 'Going to' describes a person's intention or the expected result of a present situation, and it is one of the ways of talking about the future in English. You can see examples on the page above, and you can see a discussion of different ways of describing plans on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/intermediate-grammar/future-plans

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sun, 01/09/2019 - 21:25

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Hello. Is the future form "will" in the following sentence correct? I think we should use the form "isn't going to" as there is evidence: "being stubborn", right? - For being stubborn, I expect she won't be persuaded easily. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 02/09/2019 - 07:26

In reply to by Ahmed Imam

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Hello Ahmed Imam

What you say makes sense and yes, 'isn't going to' is a good choice here. But 'won't be' is also fine, as it expresses a belief about the future. In some cases, such as this one, more than one form is possible.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Saqib on Tue, 27/08/2019 - 16:37

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Sir , Is it correct to say 'After she will finish her degree , she intends to work in an office.'
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 28/08/2019 - 07:52

In reply to by Saqib

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Hello Saqib,

We use a present form after time words like 'after' and 'before', so the correct form would be 'After she finishes her degree, she intends to work in an office'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Wed, 21/08/2019 - 13:55

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Hello Sir which one is stronger if both are correct? They are coming to see us tomorrow. They will be coming to see us tomorrow. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

I guess by 'stronger' you mean expressing more certainty that the event will take place. If so, I would say the first (are coming) is stronger. It assumes that the meeting/visit is fixed and not likely to change. The second (will be coming) is more an expectation or prediction of something that is in the normal course of events: they'll be coming to see us tomorrow because they come every Friday.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Shaban Nafea on Fri, 09/08/2019 - 14:29

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Can I say Sarah won't go with us. No matter how much we ask her. Or Sarah isn't going to go with us. No matter how much we ask her.
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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 12/08/2019 - 22:52

In reply to by Shaban Nafea

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Hello Shaban Nafea

Both can be correct but one or the other is better in certain contexts. 'won't' implies that Sarah is unwilling (i.e. does not want) to go. 'isn't going to go' can mean the same thing, but doesn't specifically imply unwillingness; it could be that she is travelling, for example, and so it's impossible for her to go with us.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Grungedoom on Wed, 31/07/2019 - 07:35

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Hi, I have a doubt, I have understood that one difference between ''going to'' and ''will'' is that '''going to'' specifies the time when the action will be done, whereas ''will'' doesn't specify the time of the action, therefore it is correct to use the wh-word when with ''going to'' but it wouldn't be right to use it with will, the sentence: I am going to travel next monday in the afternoon. (specific) the sentence: I will travel. (not specific with ''when exactly this trip will happen) but although I've seen some examples using when+will in a question, so is it correct to use ''when'' with ''will''? and if so, in which cases it is correct to use when with will?

Hello Grungedoom

I've never heard the rule about 'going to' and 'will' that you describe. It works in many cases, but as you've discovered, not all, because it is indeed correct to use 'will' in questions with 'when', for example.

I think it's better to think of 'going to' as the form we use to speak about a planned action. We probably have an idea of when we will carry out a planned action, though not necessarily.

As described above, 'will' is often used to speak about something we offer or promise to do when speaking with someone. If I was your teacher, for example, I could say 'Could someone turn off the lights after class?' and you could offer or promise to do that by responding 'I will'.

I hope this helps you make more sense of this. I'd encourage you to pay attention to how people speak or write about the future in the readings and listenings in our Skills section -- it can be really useful to analyse these forms in context.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Hayley16 on Wed, 10/07/2019 - 15:29

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Hi, Could someone possibly explain the tense used in the following sentence? The car to be serviced next is the Toyota.
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 11/07/2019 - 07:27

In reply to by Hayley16

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Hello Hayley16

An infinitive can be used after a noun to give a future meaning, but this is a fairly uncommon usage. In this case, 'to be serviced' is a passive infinitive which is used to modify the noun phrase 'the car'. 'next' gives the sentence a near future time reference.

On a different note, it's also possible to use the infinitive after the verb 'be' (e.g. 'The renovations are to be carried out next year') to speak of a plan or arrangement. This usage is quite formal, though.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Teacher.Iya.Ces on Fri, 28/06/2019 - 17:28

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Hello, i recently encountered a question. A Chinese student said he was asked to choose the correct verb to complete this sentence : If you ____ (go) to museum next month , I’ll go with you. the choices were : go, are going, will go, have gone. I said the answer should be, will go, to indicate an intention. Was I right? Because I was also thinking "are going" may also be right to indicate a possible plan. Please enlighten me. Much thanks.

Hello Teacher.Iya.Ces

Both 'go' and 'are going' are possible here. The structure in this sentence is what is often called a first conditional -- it is explained a little bit in the last section of this page, or you can see another more detailed explanation of it on our Conditionals 1 page.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by KhaledElkarrani on Sat, 15/06/2019 - 01:20

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Dear sir, I want to take your advice about this confusing sentence which is an MCQ question in the English final exam of the 3rd year secondary Egypt 2019 Liverpool's players are known to be skilled, they........the match easily. [will win - are going to win] Regards
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 15/06/2019 - 10:31

In reply to by KhaledElkarrani

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Hello KhaledElkarrani

For that question, I would answer 'are going to win' because the prediction is based on some visible evidence (which is mentioned in the first part of the sentence). 

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by thuuuv on Thu, 06/06/2019 - 21:02

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Hello, I have one question regarding future tenses. What is the main difference between present continuous, which is used when we're talking about plans and arrangements, and future continuous?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 07/06/2019 - 07:39

In reply to by thuuuv

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Hello thuuuv, We use the present continuous for arrangements which we see as quite certain (as opposed to mere intentions or hopes). Future continuous can be used in a very similar way. The main difference, I think, is one of emphasis. The future continuous has more of a suggestion that the activity will be in progress at a particular time. For example: > I'm visiting Paul tomorrow evening. [this is my plan] > I'll be visiting Paul tomorrow evening. [this is what I'll be doing and so I can't do anything else] I think the second sentence is more likely when the speaker wants to imply being busy or unavailable, as opposed to simply stating their plans. However, as I said, this is really a question of implication and interpretation. There would nothing wrong with using either form, even to a direct question about whether someone is free or not. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dw3222 on Mon, 06/05/2019 - 16:00

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In the number 1 explaination as you said "We can use the present continuous for plans or arrangements" Can we say? We have a party at christmas
Hello dw3222, You can use the present simple ('have') here, but the meaning is different from the present continuous ('are having'): > 'We have a party at Christmas' tells us what you usually do (every year). > 'We are having a party at Christmas' tells us about your plans for a particular year (this Christmas). ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Anias on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 20:16

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Hello, I had a question about the difference between will and going to, as it confuses me a lot. Is there any difference between these two sentences: 1) What colour will you paint the children's bedroom? 2) What colour are you going to paint the children's bedroom? I would really appreciate if you answered my question. Thanks in advance.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 16/04/2019 - 06:41

In reply to by Anias

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Hello Anias, There is often a choice between forms when talking about the future. Several forms may be grammatically correct, and which is used will depend on the context and how the speaker sees the particular action. In your example, both 'will' and 'going to' are possible. 'Going to' suggests that the person has considered the question before and already has an idea in their mind. 'Will' does not suggest this, and implies that the person is being asked to make a decision now. ~ You may find this page (Future Plans) helpful: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/intermediate-grammar/future-plans ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ataur Rahman on Sat, 23/03/2019 - 09:14

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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. Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yuriy UA on Sun, 10/03/2019 - 15:44

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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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by DM817 on Mon, 04/03/2019 - 12:28

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

Submitted by DM817 on Mon, 04/03/2019 - 10:13

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Hi Kirk, Thanks for the quick response and advice.

Submitted by DM817 on Sun, 03/03/2019 - 10:25

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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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Shaban Nafea on Tue, 26/02/2019 - 09:04

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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by FadeFade on Sun, 17/02/2019 - 07:34

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Hi, about the past in future actions, I came across this sentence :" it's not as good as I thought it was going to be" Could you please explain this construction? May I say" it's not as good as I thought it was"? Thank you very much Fade

Hello FadeFade,

In the past the speaker thought it was going to be very good – this is their thought in the past about the future.

In the present it is not so good.

Thus, the speaker says

It's not as good (present time) as I thought (past time) it was going to be (future in the past)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Fri, 18/01/2019 - 09:42

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Hi Sir This is from the above website: I will come home when I finish work. Can one say: I will come home when I have finished work. Is this grammatically correct? I think this correct if so do both of these sentences give the same meaning? Please let me know? Regards Lal r
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 20/01/2019 - 07:32

In reply to by Lal

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Hello Lal,

Both forms are possible and in most contexts there is no difference.

 

The present simple form (...when I finish...) means that the person will return as soon as they finish work.

 

The present perfect form (...when I have finished...) usually also means this, but in certain contexts it could mean that the person is going to do something else before returning. Thus we could say:

I'll return when I've finished work and (have) done the shopping

but we would not say

I'll return when I finish work and do the shopping

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Sat, 22/12/2018 - 05:43

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The government has come out with the predictable defence that it merely exercises a power already acquired by the government during its predecessor regime. This will not wash. Sir, I have not understood the meaning of ' This will not wash ' here.

Submitted by amrita_enakshi on Wed, 28/11/2018 - 09:35

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Sir The following question needs to be answered in future perfect (negative) •Will your friends depart for Spain this evening? Ans: No , my friends will not have departed for Spain this evening. Sir, my query is do the two negatives make the sentence positive? Or am I correct?
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 28/11/2018 - 11:03

In reply to by amrita_enakshi

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Hi amrita_enakshi,

It strikes me as a bit odd to use the future perfect to answer that question. But if you did use it, then yes, your sentence is correct. It's not a double-negative, i.e. it means they are not going to be traveling to Spain this evening.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Hopefinder on Sat, 13/10/2018 - 13:41

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Hello Learn English Team My enquiry in regard to the above test sentence: "I am having lunch with Gill today. We've got some things to discuss." Would there be any difference if we said " We have some things to discuss"? Why the present perfect has been used instead of simple present? My best regards

Hello Hopefinder,

'We've got' and 'We have' are both correct and mean the same thing in this case. 'have got' is actually not the present perfect tense here, but rather a synonym of 'have'. You can read more about 'have got' on this page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Thu, 04/10/2018 - 11:27

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Hello Sir This is from this website. If Barcelona win --- You say 'win' but not 'wins' because you mean the individual members of the team. I am I correct? But if we take the whole team as one unit 'wins' is correct. Please let me know. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

Teams or groups can be singular (the group as a whole) or plural (a collection of members), as you say.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Wed, 03/10/2018 - 09:47

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Hello Sir This is regarding an e- mail I have just read in my 'in box' the topic is ' new comment on talking about the future -' Peter M has commented on': under 'Learn English / British Council' Reply to Csahoo --- in English we have only two grammatical tenses past (e.g. 'look') and present or non past (e.g. 'looked') I think it should be 'past (e.g. 'looked') not 'look' and present or non past (e.g. look) not 'looked' Is it a typing error? or I am I wrong? Please let me know. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

You are quite right. The past form is 'looked' and the non-past form is 'look'.

Thank you for pointing this typo out. I have edited the original comment.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Wed, 03/10/2018 - 08:14

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Hello Sir Are the following two sentences correct in one it says 'Sunday' and in the second it says 'Sundays' I think both mean the same. I am I correct? If they mean the same why one writes like that. e.g. Shops in Colombo are closed on Sunday. / Shops in Colombo are closed on Sundays. My second question: Can one use present tense on both sides of a 'if' clause? E.g.1. If they mean the same why one writes like that.2. If you meet him, please give this letter. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

You can say 'on Sunday' or 'on Sundays'. The first can mean only one day ('this Sunday') or can have a general meaning; the second always has a general meaning.

In your example you have a present form in the first clause ('meet') but an imperative form in the second ('give'). It is fine to use an imperative form like this as a way of giving instructions or commands to someone.

You can use two present forms when you are making a statement which is always or typically true. For example:

If you don't water plants, they die.

If the sun shines then more people use bicycles.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Csahoo on Wed, 03/10/2018 - 06:15

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Sir I have I very simple doubt about tense .One student asked me that can we say future tense or only the future time.so I am confused.plz help me . If we say future tense it will be wrong