1. When we know about the future we normally use the present tense.

  • We use the present simple for something scheduled or arranged:

We have a lesson next Monday.
The train arrives at 6.30 in the morning.
The holidays start next week.
It is my birthday tomorrow.

  • 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.

2. We use will to talk about the future:

  • When we make predictions:

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.

3. We use (be) going to:

  • To talk about plans and intentions:

I’m going to drive to work today.
They are going to move to Manchester.

  • When we can see that something is likely to happen:

Be careful! You are going to fall.
Look at those black clouds. I think it’s going to rain.


4. 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.

5. 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.

6. We can use should if we think something is likely to happen:

We should be home in time for tea.
The game should be over by eight o’clock.

7. Clauses with time words:

In clauses with time words like when, after, and until we often use a present tense form 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.

8. Clauses with if:

In clauses with if we often use a present tense form to talk about the future:

We won’t be able to go out if it rains.
If Barcelona win tomorrow they will be champions.

WARNING: We do not normally use will in clauses with if or with time words:

I’ll come home when I will finish work.
We won’t be able to go out if it will rain rains.

But we can use will if it means a promise or offer:

I will be very happy if you will come to my party.
We should finish the job early if George will help us.

9. We can use the future continuous instead of the present continuous or going to for emphasis when we are talking about plans, arrangements and intentions:

They’ll be coming to see us next week.
I will be driving to work tomorrow.

 

 

Exercise

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Comments

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

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

I sometimes see a speaker saying:
I'm going to disagree with you.
I'm going to have to agree with you.

What's the function of "going to" here sir?

Hi,

I understand that S/N 1 to 3 talks about actions or events that take place in the future; however, under S/N 4, you mentioned that "We often use verbs like would like, plan, want, mean, hope, expect to talk about the future", with examples such as "I’d like to go to University. We plan to go to France for our holidays. George wants to buy a new car". For S/N 4, when you say "to talk about the future", I suppose you mean that the verbs would like, plan and wants refer to present actions (i.e. he wants (happening right now) and plan (happening right now) while the "future portion" refers to "to go to France (to happen sometime in the future)" and "to buy a new car (to happen some time in the future)". May I know if my understanding is correct? Thanks!

Tim

Hello Tim,

Yes, that's the idea. The reason these different verbs are mentioned is that these forms are often used to discuss the future, even though they are not future tense forms.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Thanks for your reply. I further understand that the future tense is often combined with the simple present tense to collectively refer to the future, where the main clause is in the simple future, and the subordinate clause (time clause) is in the simple present, e.g. "I will call you when breakfast is ready". I have some queries regarding this, namely, if I should express the subordinate time clause in present perfect instead of simple present, as in "I will come back after they have prepared breakfast", what would be the difference in meaning between this as compared with a time clause expressed in the simple present?

Also, my second query would be whether it is possible to state the main clause in the simple present tense while expressing the subordinate time clause in the present perfect? And could you kindly provide some examples for my understanding.

Thanks!

-Tim

Hello Tim,

In answer to your second question, we would not use a present - present perfect combination with a future meaning. The present simple does not refer to a single action but to an ongoing repeated or regular action and so logically cannot be triggered by a single event occuring in the future.

The use of present perfect rather than present simple in the subsidiary clause often has little effect on the meaning. However, depending on the time conjunction used, it can make clear that the main clause action occurs only after the subsidiary clause:

 

I will come back after they prepare breakfast. [the preparation is finished before I come back]

 

I will come back after they have prepared breakfast. [the preparation is finished before I come back]

 

I will come back when they have prepared breakfast. [the preparation is finished before I come back]

 

I will come back when they prepare breakfast. [the preparation may be finished before I come back, or I may come back at the moment when they begin to prepare]

 

You can read more about the use of different verb forms in time clauses here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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