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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


Talking about the future 2


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.


Hi Kirk,
Thanks for the quick response and advice.

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


The LearnEnglish Team

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


The LearnEnglish Team

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


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)



The LearnEnglish Team

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?


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



The LearnEnglish Team

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.