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.

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Submitted by Meliora on Sun, 03/04/2022 - 22:38

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Hello! I have a question. In one of the exercises in my book there was this sentence: The shop is closing for good next Monday.
I also encountered this question: "When does the festival finish?" "Tomorrow"
These two sentences look quite similar to me and both of them refer to programs in the future. So why aren't we using the same tense for both of them? I mean, is it grammatically incorrect to say: "The shop closes for good next Monday"? Or why can't we say "The festival is finishing tomorrow"?
Thanks in advance!

Hello Meliora,

Future forms are very much dependent on the context and how the speaker sees a given action or situation, so there is often a choice for the speaker.

In your examples, which form is appropriate depends on how the speaker sees the actions:

  • The present simple (closes/finishes) describes an event which is part of a regular schedule or which has been fixed as a part of the calendar and will not or cannot be changed.
  • The present continuous (is closing/is finishing) describes an event which has been arranged by agreement between two or more parties, but which could still be revised.

In your examples both forms are possible; it depends how the speaker sees the situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by fadi.kazan on Sat, 12/03/2022 - 16:34

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Hello dears,

I have an inquiry;
- Joe has inherited a lot of money. He ...... (buy) a new villa next month.
Which is better to use here, will or is going to?

Thanks

Hello fadi.kazan,

It really depends on the context, but in most cases, 'is going to' would be the best answer here. This is because 'be going to' is used to speak about a plan, whereas 'will' is for a decision made in the moment, or predictions, which seem unlikely in this situation.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aeg on Thu, 10/02/2022 - 10:16

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Hi, can you please help me with this sentence.
I.......(AM MENDING/AM GOING TO MEND) your sweater this afternoon. I've noticed it's full of holes.
They both look acceptable for me.... Not sure which one to choose.

Hello aeg,

In most situations, 'am going to mend' is the best form to use. It means that you plan or intend to mend the sweater this afternoon.

You can see an explanation of the different forms we use to talk about the future on our Future plans page.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by HieuNT on Mon, 24/01/2022 - 15:27

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Hello the LearnEnglish Team,

I have some questions about using different tenses to talk about the future.

1) Is there any differences in meaning, implication or emphasis between using "Present Continuous" and "Future Continuous" when we talk about planned activities or events? For example:

a> We will be leaving / are leaving for Istanbul at 7.00 in the evening.
b> The professor will be giving / is giving the first presentation at the conference. (No time indicator)

2) As I read in the book "Oxford Guide to English Grammar", we can use the Future Continuous to talk about a routine or a habitual actions. So what the differences between using Future Continuous and Present Simple when we talk about a habits or routine? For example:

c> "Like every Saturday, I'll be playing football with my friends" vs. "I play football with my friends on Saturday".

d> "We'll be spending the holidays in Lanzarote as usual" vs. "Each July, we go to Lanzarote for a holiday".

e> "I will be having lunch in the canteen as usual" vs "I usually have lunch in the canteen".

Many thanks,
Hieu Nguyen

Can anyone from the LearnEnglish Team please clear my doubts? I really don't want to repost my question on another lesson :(

Hello HieuNT,

We'll certainly get to your questions soon. You've been asking lots of quite extensive questions lately. We're happy to help, but we have lots of other work and users to attend to, so we generally only answer one question per user per day.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr. Kirk,

Thank you for replying. I know your team are busy and there are other users with questions need answering just like me.

I didn't mean to sound demanding or so... I hope you guys will understand. You all have been really helpful and I really appreciate your help.

Please come back to this question when you have time.

Look forward to your answer.
Hieu Nguyen

Hello HieuNT,

To answer your first question, most of the time, exactly what a future continuous form means as compared to a present continuous depends on the context and/or how the speaker is thinking of the action. For example, in the case of sentence a>, if I had my diary open and was speaking with you to try to schedule a phone call, the present continuous form would probably make more sense, as in that situation we're comparing plans and trying to make another plan.

But if you told me that our group of friends is having a group video call at 7.00 that evening and you insist that I join it, I might use a future continuous form is I'm thinking of all the different things that I'll likely be in the middle of doing at 7.00 -- maybe I'll be finishing packing my bag, loading up the car, trying to get the kids out the door, etc. In this case, I see that moment as one full of activity rather than as an appointment, and the future continuous expresses this idea in a way the present continuous does not.

The same difference in the way we think about the event applies to routines or habitual actions: if we're thinking more of the calendar and our plans as blocks of activity, then the present simple makes more sense; but if we're thinking of the things we are likely to be doing at a time, then the future continuous works better.

That doesn't explain all of the possible shades of meaning that a future continuous form can give, but that at least gives an idea of what it can indicate. Hope it helps you make more sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again, Mr. Kirk,

Your explanation was very clear and easy to understand. Thank you!!

Have a good day, sir.
Hieu Nguyen

Submitted by melvinthio on Sat, 08/01/2022 - 15:29

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Hi Jonathan,
In the last week of December 2021, I posted a question on this page about "to be going to", but I haven't yet seen my question nor your answer posted here.
Please let me know whether you have received it.
Best regards,

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Submitted by Prap on Tue, 18/05/2021 - 15:22

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What does the speaker mean when they say 'Peter kissing the cameraman is the best scene you will ever see'? I confuse it with expressions like 'Peter kissing the cameraman is the best scene you have ever seen'. Thanks in advance!

Hi Prap,

Both of these expressions emphasise how uniquely good this scene is. The first one refers to the future, meaning something like 'in your life, you won't see anything better than this'. This is a belief about the future (see more examples of this on the page above). The second one refers to the past until the present moment. It means that until now, you have never seen a better scene than this. It's more common to use this with the first person (the best scene I've ever seen), because I know my own experiences but I may not know what experiences another person has had.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Prap on Thu, 20/05/2021 - 16:21

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Now I've got it. Thanks a lot!

Submitted by ngaianna on Mon, 22/03/2021 - 02:50

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From the above notes, it states that we normally use the present tense for something scheduled, e.g. 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. If I use future tense, e.g. My parents' anniversary will be on next Friday. Next Friday will be my birthday. Tomorrow will be Friday. I will visit Ocean Park. Are these OK?

Hello ngaianna,

You can generally use 'will' in this way. It describes each thing as a single event rather than a repeated, regular or scheduled event, but it's not wrong to do that. The exception, I think, is when we talk about very fixed patterns such as days of the week. It's not grammatically wrong to say 'Tomorrow will be Friday' but it sounds very unusual to my ear.

As an aside, we don't use prepositions with 'last' or 'next', so we wouldn't say 'on next Friday' but rather just 'next Friday'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yigido on Sun, 27/12/2020 - 11:07

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Hi team, I am confused for example''If I work hard,I"ll be able to pass my exam."I don't understand the main difference - will - and -will be able to-.I am not sure Can you tell me what's the difference?
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Mon, 28/12/2020 - 06:39

In reply to by Yigido

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Hi Yigido,

They are similar! But there is a difference. If you say I'll pass my exam, you are focusing on the exam result only. But if you say I'll be able to pass my exam, you're stating that you have the ability (e.g. the knowledge or the skills) to pass the exam. So, the focus is on your personal ability, as well as the exam result.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yigido on Mon, 28/12/2020 - 08:36

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Teacher,Why I am saying I am stating my ability?or When I should state my ability?

Hi Yigido,

The word able means 'to have the ability to do something', so if you say I'll be able to pass my exam, it includes this meaning.

About your second question, it really depends on what you want to say as a speaker or writer! If you want to just focus on the exam result, then say I'll pass my exam. You could say this if, for example, this is part of a conversation where you tell somebody all about the exam (e.g. how difficult it will be, what the questions might be, and so on).

But, in other situations, I would say I'll be able to pass my exam. For example, if I am reflecting on my progress in my studies, then I need to consider not only my exam results but also the development of my abilities (e.g. knowledge or skills). So, this sentence fits well here.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Sat, 27/02/2021 - 19:53

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Dear Jonathan. In you sentence you said: "if you say..., you are focusing on... What is the difference if saying " if you said..., you would focuse on..."?

Hi Plokonyo,

If you say ... frames this as a real situation. I'm referring to the person really saying this in his/her real life. If you said ... frames it as just an imagined (i.e. hypothetical) situation that doesn't necessarily happen in his/her real life. Both phrases and meanings could be used here, but using If you said ... suggests that the situation is unlikely to happen.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Turki123456 on Wed, 28/10/2020 - 12:47

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-I’m cleaning the house before my mom comes tomorrow -I will be cleaning the house before my mom comes tomorrow -I'm going to clean the house before my mom comes tomorrow -I will clean the house before my comes tomorrow Can we use the present progressive or the future continues in the main clause or it’s wrong? As if it’s a prior plan or something in progress? I know that we usually Don't use them with predictions but here can They be a prior plane? or only (will and going to) can fit in the main clauses as if they are always used as predictions.(the main clauses I mean)

Submitted by DaniWeebKage on Sun, 25/10/2020 - 15:40

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I'm going to London with my friends the next day. I'll be going to London with my friends the next day. Do they have the same meaning? Can I use one with my option?

Hello DaniWeebKage,

The meanings are very similar and the forms are often interchangeable, depending on the context and the speaker's intention.

 

Going to have several uses. It can be used to express an intention or a plan on the part of the speaker, describing something we have chosen to do. It can also describe the anticipated result of a present situation: I can see dark clouds, so it's going to rain.

 

Will be + verb-ing also has more than one use, but the relevant use here is to express an expectation. We use it to describe something that seems to the speaker to be part of the expected or normal sequence of events. A prediction of the weather based on what is typical would use this form, for example: In November it will be snowing in the mountains.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sokhom on Sun, 18/10/2020 - 12:21

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Hello,Sir What should I choose: It's against the ........... not to wear seat belt in a plane. a. rule b. regulation c. law d. order Thanks you.

Hello Sokhom,

I'd recommend you ask your teacher about that. I'm afraid that this sentence is a little unnatural-sounding, so I can't be sure what will be considered correct. In standard British English, we typically say 'against the law', 'against the rules' or 'against regulations'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 11:56

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Hello. Which form is suitable in the following situation? - I will meet Donna after school. - I am meeting Donna after school. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I don't understand the situation you are referring to. If you decide right now that you will meet Donna after school, the first one is correct. If you already had a plan to meet Donna after school, i.e. a plan that you previously made, then the second one would be the correct form.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sindhallb on Fri, 11/09/2020 - 15:26

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How can we decide that would is used to show past or for asking foreference (like/dislike)

Hello sindhallb,

When a word has different possible meanings it is the context in which it is used (the sentence and the conversation/text around it) which makes the meaning or use clear.

If you're interested in the various uses of would then you can find them discussed on our various pages on modal verbs. Some pages deal specfically with particular modal verbs, such as would, while others deal with the uses of various modal verbs, such as ability, permission etc.

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/modal-verbs

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sindhallb on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 19:48

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It's somewhat confusing to use future tene with difference format of verbs for the varius purposes

Submitted by Aiza on Tue, 18/08/2020 - 19:09

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Hello, I have a question,as one of use of"will" is for formal announcement of a schedule d future event(to tell someone that something is happening and when and where it will happen) E.g. X band will be performing ng at this place. Or we wipp go to the beach next weekend. Or dad will be home at 6. In above example, something that is planned to happen,has a place or date/time then"present continuous " is also used form arragennts which as specific time and date.e.g.they are coming at 6. So, what's the difference between these two?

Submitted by vnpthao on Fri, 07/08/2020 - 04:26

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Hello, I would like to ask you about this sentence "The container to be set at minus 18 degrees Celsius". Does it just talk about an action may happen in the future? If not, does that sentence equal to "The container is set at minus 18 degrees Celsius"? I do not see your example of structure "to + verb" meaning the future. So does this structure still talk about simple present, or TO BE SET is just a wrong tense of IS SET?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 07/08/2020 - 08:55

In reply to by vnpthao

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Hello vnpthao,

The form here has a future meaning. It is an instruction with a similar meaning to 'you must do this' or 'this is what you should do'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Abhishek on Fri, 31/07/2020 - 08:05

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Rule 2 and 6 are contradictory in nature ? 2. They are coming to see us tomorrow (plan) 6. They'll be coming to see us next week. (Plan) Both are correct or not ?

Hello Abhishek,

No, they are not contradictory. Remember that grammatical rules describe how words work, and grammar is not simply a tight system without any redundancy. It would be very weak if that were the case.

Both verb forms can refer to plans. The difference is in the perspective of the speaker on the plan or the future time. There has been some discussion of this recently on our Future continuous and future perfect page -- please have a look at the first couple of pages of comments there and I think Peter's answers there will help you make more sense of this.

If not, please feel free to ask us more there.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Allate on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 16:19

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Hi Sir, I'd like to know if there is a difference in these two sentences: 1. I'll come when I finish. 2. I'll come if I finish. If yes, what is the difference in meaning?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 30/07/2020 - 07:47

In reply to by Allate

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Hello Allate,

When suggests that finishing is certain; it is only a question of time.

If suggests that the speaker does not know whether or not they will finish; it is possible that they will not finish.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 00:52

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------------------------ I find this illustration of the link above is not accurate and might not include all the cases in which we should use the present tense in the way. I wanted to know all the cases and the accurate rules of this usage of the present tense, sir. (Sorry for making a vague question before, sir. T.T)

Hello Kim Hui-Jeong,

I don't see any errors in the section that you referred to. Some people might prefer to call the past simple forms in the second conditional sentences a subjunctive form, but the example sentence is certainly correct. If there was a specific sentence that you think is wrong, you're welcome to copy that sentence here and then tell us what you think is wrong or don't understand. I'd also recommend you read our page that explains this grammar, but I'm afraid we don't provide exhaustive explanations of grammar points -- there are just too many possibilities.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by veve on Fri, 03/07/2020 - 20:19

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Hello, please can you tell me which form is correct? She will be 30 next month. She is going to be 30 next month. or are they both correct?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 04/07/2020 - 06:52

In reply to by veve

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Hello veve,

Both options are correct. When we talk about people's ages in this way we can use a very wide range of forms. For example, as well as the two you included you could also use these:

She's 30 next month.

She turns 30 next month.

She'll be turning 30 next month.

She's turning 30 next month.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Fri, 03/07/2020 - 13:17

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I'm curious about exactly when to use the present tense that refers to the future in dependant clauses. I already know that the present tense must be used in some cases of time/place/condition clauses and relative clauses. But I'm not sure if I must use the present tense in some cases of situation/case clauses(or other clauses) and appositive clauses. I would be really grateful if you helped me. I've been very confused ever since I first encountered the present tense used like this.