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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Average: 4.4 (74 votes)

Submitted by nanalee2024 on Wed, 20/03/2024 - 08:17

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I would like to ask about how to distinguish the present simple and the future simple when we want to talk about a plan or an activity happening in the future. Could you please tell me your idea about this exercise?

The Music Festival ________________ place this Sunday night, in the central stadium.

A. takes B. will take C. is going to take D. has taken

Thanks a lot!

Hello nanalee2024,

There's not enough context to really know what idea about the future this sentence communicates. Since it's not clear, A, B and C could all easily be correct and the verb forms would have the meanings explained above.

Sorry I can't give a more definitive answer!

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thanks a lot. This is the reason why I get confused with this exercise.

I also want you to clarify when we use the present simple and the future simple or be going to when we want to talk about the future. What are the differences? Can you tell in detail what type of plans or activities we will use the appropriate tense?

Hello nanalee2024,

This information is on the page in the explanation above these comments:

  • present simple - fixed future events, timetables and schedules
  • will (or other modal verbs such as might, could or may) - predictions, guesses, promises and threats
  • be going to - intentions, logical predictions based on evidence
  • present continuous - events you have already arranged

Future forms are very much dependent on the context and on how the speaker sees the situation, as you can see. Very often there is a more than one form possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jitu_jaga on Mon, 19/02/2024 - 06:06

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Hello Teachers,
Who's going to tell Jake? And who will tell Jake? Is there any differences in meaning? Could you explain it elaborately?

Hello jitu_jaga,

The differences between these forms is explained above. Could you please tell us what isn't clear for you, or what you think the difference is? I think we'll be better able to help you if we understanding where you're coming from.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Hello Kirk,
I think in the first sentence the speaker is asking about plan who made earlier to ask Jake.
Whereas in the second sentence the speaker is insisting someonelse to take decision to ask Jake right at the moment of speaking.
If I am wrong, please correct t me.

Hello jitu_jaga,

Yes, you've got the right idea. If we say 'Who will tell Jake?', we are clearly asking for a volunteer -- as you put it, for someone to declare this at the moment of speaking.

'Who's going to tell Jake?' suggests that there may already be a plan of some sort, though perhaps it hasn't been finalized. 

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Submitted by dspatola on Mon, 12/02/2024 - 12:54

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Hi, I hope you can help me. I try to find out which translation is correct among the following:

I've bought a new laptop, but it doesn't work. I'll must bring back to the shop.
I've bought a new laptop, but it doesn't work. I'll have to bring back to the shop.

I think they won't spend their holydays by the sea again.
I don't think they will spend their holydays by the sea again.

Watch out! You're going to hurt yourself.
Watch out! You'll hurt yourself.

Thank you in advance for your help

Hello dspatola,

In 1), only the second sentence is correct. We don't use two modal verbs ('will must') together as they are used in the first sentence.

In 2), we typically make the verb 'think' negative (as in the second sentence) rather than the other verb (as in the first sentence). But the first sentence is not incorrect; it's just unusual. Note, however, the spelling of 'holidays'.

Both of the sentences in 3) can be correct. It depends on the situation and/or speaker's intended meaning.

By the way, please let us know what you think is the correct or incorrect option when you ask us questions such as these. It helps us help you better if we can see what you are unsure about.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by .Mariia on Thu, 01/02/2024 - 10:56

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Hello,
Wich of these sentences is correct? And why?
He has a meeting with the doctor in two hours.
He is having a meeting with the doctor in two hours.

Hi .Mariia,

Both of them are correct! In comparison, the second one emphasises the fact that the meeting has already been organised and confirmed relatively more.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

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Submitted by D3A on Wed, 31/01/2024 - 01:32

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When you think of "will" always remember the song "we will rock you" and "i will survive". Also remember that "a will" (noun) is testament (document) that says what will be done in the future and is 100% (can't be changed).

Submitted by Plokonyo on Fri, 15/12/2023 - 10:30

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What is the difference between

Next week I'll be visiting your city.
Next week I'm going to be visiting your city.

Hello Plokonyo,

Both sentences use the continuous aspect to talk about the city visit, so the main difference is the difference between 'will' and 'be going to'.

Both forms can be used to make a prediction. When they are used to make a prediction, 'be going to' more strongly suggests there is some evidence for this future event than 'will' does. Although the two sentences you ask about are probably not predictions, they could be depending on the context.

More likely these are statements about plans. 'be going to' shows that a plan is already in place; the plan was made before the moment of speaking. It speaks of your intention to visit the city next week.

The most common meaning of 'will' in speaking about the future is for a plan made at the moment of speaking. This doesn't really work in this context, but people do sometimes say something like 'Next week I'll be visiting your city'. In this case, it could be that someone else has arranged your travel plans or your schedule and has decided the details of this trip. In this case, 'will' is used to report a fact about the future. This suggests less intentional involvement on the part of the speaker than 'be going to', which we use to speak about intentions.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Sun, 03/12/2023 - 06:29

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Dear team, I hope you are fine.
I saw a video, David Letterman's Final Show. He says, I love this segment. The name is "a comedy we would have done tomorrow."
Why is "would have done" used?
Another question: Which one is true?
Why is "would have done" used?
Why "would have done" is used?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

The correct question is 'Why is 'would have done' used?'

The answer to this question is as follows. We use 'would have done' when something was a possibility in the past but did not happen. For example:

I would have gone to the party, but I didn't get an invitation.

 

Although it seems odd to link a form like this which rooted in an unreal past with a future time reference ('tomorrow'), sometimes people do so. This is generally when the decision to do something in the future has been taken in the past. For example:

I would have gone to the party tomorrow, but I didn't get an invitation and now I have other plans.

Here, the party is tomorrow but the time to decide/arrange to go was in the past. It's an unusual use, but it occurs in contexts like this. Whether this is what Letterman had in mind or whether he was just playing linguistic games for comedic effect I can't tell you, however.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Myetl on Thu, 23/11/2023 - 15:45

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Hi Team,
I'm learning the difference between the future tense "I will go tomorrow" and the future with present progressive "I am going tomorrow". What is the difference between them in these examples please? I know the grammatical difference but I was wondering when you would use one over the other. I know traditionally you use the future with present continuous for things that are scheduled or arranged but since both of these specify time is there any difference in use? thanks in advance

Hello Myetl,

The context and the speaker's intentions are key, but in general, for example, 'I'm going tomorrow' implies that you've already had your trip planned. You haven't decided to go just now as you're speaking with someone.

If you say 'I'll go tomorrow', it could be that you are making a promise to go to the person you're speaking with, or it could be that you've decided you will go just now while speaking.

I'd say this is the most typical distinction in meaning between these two forms, but, as always, other meanings are possible in specific situations.

Hope this helps!

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by HLH on Wed, 20/09/2023 - 12:40

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Hello
I use the present simple for future I must happen in the present and happened in the past and future and I avoid giving instructions
I am talking about grammar this is correct ?

Hi HLH,

Sorry, I don't understand the question. Can you ask it again?

You can find some examples of how to use the present simple for the future at the top of the page above.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Sun, 11/06/2023 - 22:31

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Hello, dear teachers and team!

Could you please help me with my confusion concerning "will" and "going to". It is quite understandable that will refers to spontaneous ideas and going to is used for planned actions. I've been a bit confused since I read that Cambridge Dictionary says: "One of the main uses of will is to refer to things in the future that we think are certain".

1. So, if someone asks me "What are your plans for Monday and Tuesday" can I answer "I will work" (=I am sure I'll do) or does it have to be "I'm going to work" (because it refers to my plan"? In the same way, can I ask someone "Will you work tomorrow?" or should it be "Are you going to work tomorrow?"

2. Can I say "I will have a rest on Maldives" (I'm sure I will, I have already bought tickets and booked a hotel and I'm sure it will happen) or "I'm going to have a rest on Maldives" (I have already bought tickets and booked a hotel, so it's my plan).

I'm very very grateful for your help and thank you very much for answering this comment beforehand!

Hello howtosay_,

'Will' describes a decision, as you say. The key to understanding the second use is not the degree of certainty of the action but rather the concept of 'we think'. In other words, 'will' describes our belief in a certain outcome. That is why it is used in prophecies and guesses. It's also why we tend not to use it about our own actions unless we are making a promise or a threat. After all, we do not need belief in our own choice - the choice depends only on us.

1. For the reasons above, 'going to' is used in both examples here.

2. Again, 'going to' is more appropriate here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team,
I have some confusion over the use of the term 'later' to talk about the future. For example, can I say "I will take the exam 6 months later" to refer to the future? Does it instead refer to the past?
Wouldn't it be more correct to say "I will take the exam in 6 months/ 6 months from now" to talk about the future? Why?
Thanks in advance!

Hello BeeJay,

'Later' is a comparative form which requires another time in the future as a reference point. For example:

The plan was to do it in September but we're going to do it a month later instead.

The plan was to do it in two months but we're going to do it a month later instead.

> September or 'in two months' are the reference points for 'later' here.

 

Without this reference point you cannot use 'later':

We are going to do it in October / in three months / 

> There is no reference point so 'later' cannot be used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by User_1 on Sun, 07/05/2023 - 13:41

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Hello,
Talking about the future, especially for plans/arrangements and plans/intentions.
As written above:
We can use the present continuous for plans or arrangements, and we use "be going to" to talk about plans or intentions.
For me, it is difficult to settle if they are plans/arrangements or plans/intentions.
In both cases, it comes naturally to me to use the form "be going to"; is it so grammatically incorrect?
Thanks for your reply.

Hi User_1,

An arrangement normally involves some sort of official process (e.g. "I'm seeing the doctor tomorrow" implies that the person has made an appointment; "I'm going to New York" implies booking tickets, hotels, etc.), or coordination with other people ("I'm meeting my friends for dinner tonight.").

These same things can also be described as intentions ("I'm going to see the doctor tomorrow"; "I'm going to go to New York"), so there's nothing wrong with using "going to". However, an intention does not necessarily involve making an arrangement. Intentions also include things that the person simply desires to do ("I'm going to drive to work today"). 

There is a large overlap between these meanings of the present continuous and going to. However, the present continuous does have that "arrangement" meaning, which comes in useful sometimes!

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks for your help.
Sometimes, it is hard to identify that difference not so much when I write but by doing grammar tests.

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:33

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Q12.Alice is going to have a baby.
It is a popular phrase, though it brings this question what if it is stated for the purpose of simple informaing, which suggests to use will. Are we allowed to use will in here?

Hello aeposp,

As with most future forms, the choice depends on how the speaker sees the situation. Going to is by far the most common form used in this context because it is a predictable process based on evidence we possess. Will is not grammatically incorrect, but it would suggest some kind of guess or prediction (fortune telling?), so it does seem unlikely.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:33

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Q11. Look at this conversation: A. do you have any plans for this weekend? B. No, I really don’t . I will/am going to eat dinner of course. And then probably I will/ am going to watch Tv for a little while.
A recource indicates both options fit the situation. But why? It seems either prediction on the basis of experience Or simply an instant decision. So why to use be going to?

Hi aeposp,

I think both will and am going to are both fine for the first one. Am going to is OK because it shows something that has already been decided before the moment of speaking. Since eating dinner is a regular and everyday activity, it can be understood in that way. For the second one, I would prefer will.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:32

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Q10. My father ___ definitely stay in hospital for two weeks.
Is it prediction based on evidence or personal knowledge and opinion or simply an information?

Hi aeposp,

It could be any of these functions, depending on the context in which it is said or written!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:32

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Q9 . When a expert of any kind announces a knowledge he has achieved considering his prior knowledge and the evidence he observes – for examples a weather specialist who observes the radars and other data and comes to a conclusion considering his own knowledge- is it will or be going to we should use? Afterall, should we consider his announcement a neutral informing or a prediction of any kind?
Ex: Eastern Berlin ___ stay dry and sunny over the weekend.

Hi aeposp,

The presenter could use "is going to" to show a strong sense of certainty. "Will" is also possible, to present the information as the speaker's belief. 

In this example, there is another factor to consider: the conventions of the type of text. Aside from the speaker's own intentions and understanding of the information, the speaker is also producing a kind of text that has its own characteristics for content, language and organisation, which have been established through many other texts produced previously. In my experience, weather presenters mostly use "will", and the speaker may also decide to follow this convention. This is true for not just weather forecasts but newspaper articles, academic articles and any other kind of text.

If you are interested in a particular type of text, it might be interesting for you to take some examples of it and see whether they use "will", "going to" or both, and in which circumstances.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:32

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Q8. I have a feeling sth good ____ happen soon.
Is seems a prediction based on personal opinion, so is the usage of be going to forbidden in here?

Hello aeposp,

Both 'will' and 'is going to' are possible here. 'is going to' suggests more intensity or personal engagement on the part of the speaker than 'will' does.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:32

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Q7. When asking about decisions, both will and be going to are used.
Ex: Where are you going to/will stay in Berlin?
Any difference between options?

Hello aeposp,

In general, 'going to' is the best form to use here since this appears to be a question about a plan. We don't use 'will' to talk about plans in this way.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:32

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Q6.I am going on a holiday. I ____ away for a week.
Is it simply information OR prediction based on knowledge OR expressing the arrangement and decision?

Hello asposp,

There is often a choice of future forms which the speaker could use and that is the case here. You could see the situation as a future fact ('will be'), a prediction (also 'will be'), an intention or plan ('am going to be') or an arrangement ('am'). All of these are possible and reflect less an objective fact than how the speaker conceives the situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Mirrah,

I think anyone would understand this, but I'm afraid that combination of verb tenses isn't correct.

If I understand what you want to say here correctly, 'I can see you tomorrow if they don't cancel the class' is the correct form.

I'd suggest you have a look at our Conditionals 1 page, where you can learn more about the most common verb tenses used with 'if'.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:31

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Q5. Due to the fact that predicting based on present evidence expresses a higher level of certainty, why is it stated in some resources that “will” states a higher level of certainty, especially in neutral information, as in: I will be 21 next week.
What is the difference between: I will be 21 next week? And I am going to be 21 next week.

Hi aeposp,

Actually, "will" can also indicate a high level of certainty. The differences between "will" and "going to" are not only in the level of certainty, but also the exact meaning of the future event. If you say "I will be 21 next week", you are stating it relatively simply and factually, as a future event. If you say "I am going to be 21 next week", you are presenting it as a kind of process that is already underway and is inevitable. That's the meaning underlying the "present evidence" explanation of "going to" - it is evidence of a process that is already happening. In many cases (such as this one), this small difference between "will" and "going to" is unlikely to be important in the conversation. Whichever one you choose expresses the point, which (I presume) is to tell the listener when your birthday is.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:31

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Q4. Is the following example an expression of prediction based on opinion or knowledge (to use will) or based on evidence or decision or intention (to use be going to)?
John _____ graduate from medical school in June.
(There is signs of referring to present circumstance which is the present policies of the university, when to end the process of education AND signs of the speakers knowledge over such an evidence and circumstance.)

Hi aeposp,

Similar to the previous question, both will and going to are correct and plausible answers! Without more contextual information, we cannot know for sure which one the speaker intends.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by aeposp on Thu, 30/03/2023 - 19:31

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Q3. It is mentioned in some resources that when simply giving information of asking for information we use will
1)Is it possible to use be going to when simply giving information with no emphasize on other purposes of expression?
2) There is a borderline in some resources that when there is any sign of expressing prior intension of plans he definite and singly option is be going to. What if there is the intention of simple informing, for example:
We ____ study climate change in some part of the course.
3) In the example above there is also signs of prediction. This prediction is based on knowledge on present policies and the syllabus of the course; is this kind of prediction based on present evidence (the present syllabus) or based on the knowledge of the speaker over the syllabus?
4)Some may say this example is expressing decisions. Is that right?