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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

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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.

Comments

hello, i need to ask you something about plan n promise. can I write like this?
1. I am going to tell you my secrets tomorrow.
2. I will tell you my secrets tomorrow.
how to differentiate them?in this case, i dont know the difference between plan and promise because i think i can make my promise into plan .
thank you

Hello agangani,

In these uses 'going to' describes and action which we have thought about before we do it (this is why we describe it as a 'plan'), whereas 'will' describes an action that is spontaneous or not previously thought about.  Your first sentence, therefore, suggests that telling the secrets is something you have thought about and decided before, and now you are telling someone of that choice.  Your second sentence suggests that you have just this moment decided to do this, without really thinking about it before.

Please remember, however, that the use of different future forms in English is very much dependent on (a) the speaker's intentions and (b) the context.  That means that there are usually several possible forms in any given situation which you can correctly use; which you choose depends upon your perspective of the action/situation.  The two sentences you give here are good examples of this as both are quite correct and quite possible.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Many thanks Peter! that helps a lot!!!

Hello,
I'm trying to help my 14 yrs old daughter (French is her mother tongue and learning English at school) with the future tense, and my my knowledge of grammar is not very good.  She has some examples and wonders why is one and not the other:
-" Will you go to Italy?"  or "Are you going to Italy?"
- "I am visiting my aunt tomorrow" or "I am going to visit my aunt tomorrow"
- "I think is going to snow soon" or "I think it will snow soon"
- "I am sure you are not going to fail your exam next week" or "I am sure you will fail your exam next week".
If the principles of plans, intentions, promises are more or less clear it is difficult to reflect it in the exercises.
Thanks a lot!
 

Hello Pelusa1960,

The key to choices such as these is the context, because it is the context which tells us how far a given action is planned, arranged and so on.  As these sentences are provided without context, we have to make assumptions about the most likely context for each.  That said, the most likely choices are as follows:

- "Are you going to Italy?" [this is unlikely to be a decision taken on the spur of the moment, so we can assume it is a planned or arranged future]
- "I am visiting my aunt tomorrow" or "I am going to visit my aunt tomorrow" [I can see no preference here without a clear context; both the first (representing an arrangement) and the second option (representing a plan on the part of the speaker) are perfectly possible]
- "I think is going to snow soon" or "I think it will snow soon" [again, both a possible: the first is a prediction based on evidence, such as seeing heavy clouds, while the second is a guess about the future]
- "I am sure you are not going to fail your exam next week" or "I am sure you will fail your exam next week" [again, both are possible, depending on whether there is some kind of evidence available (which would suggest the first option) or there is not and this is simply a guess about the future or a statement of belief (which would suggest the second)].

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter M
I was asking same as u coded in your example sentences actually i was confused about use of 'will' with 'when' because i read in another section that we normally don't use will with conditional sentence in time clause with 'when' so that's why i was not sure about used of will with 'when'
can i say this when will electricity failure resolve? and when will u come ? or when u come ?
also tell me when we start question sentence with 'when' can we use all tenses with it ?
Thanks   

Hi saima khan,

It sounds like you might be conflating points 7 and 8 above with the use of will in general. Point 7 is about dependent clauses with time words like when and point 8 is about clauses with if, which are also sometimes referred to as conditionals - in these cases, will is generally not used after when or if, but notice that these are dependent clauses that are part of a larger sentence. There is no dependent clause in the questions that Peter listed in his reply to you - they are questions with the meaning and use described under point 2 above.

"When will the electricity failure be resolved?" is grammatically correct. The other question you ask about is possible, but in most cases, the present continuous or the be going to form are used to ask questions about plans (see our talking about the future page for more information on this). And yes, any verb tense can come after a question start with when, as long as the tense makes sense given the context.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!
Learning English Team
Could you please explain me the use of 'will' in these examples

  1. To mean want to or be willing to. (what does it mean i don't understand its meaning an use)

examples: I hope you will come to my party. 
George says he will help us.
2. Also explain me the difference between these two uses of 'will' with examples

  • To make offers and promises:
  • To talk about offers and promises:

Thanks

Hello saima khan,

1. In both of the first two sentences you ask about, a person wants to or is willing (if you look this up in the dictionary on the right, you'll see it means happy to do something if needed) to do something (come to a party or help). You could also say "I want you to come to my party" or "George says he is happy to help us".

2. In the example sentences for to make offers and promises, you'll notice that a person or people (I or we) is/are promising or offering to do something. In the sentences for to talk about offers and promises, the people who have offered or promised are not the subject - rather a different person is talking about those people (Tim and Mary) and the promises they have made.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi saima khan,

Normally people just say "I understand" - the other two sentences you mention sound a little bit unusual (though not at all difficult to understand).

1. The two forms have quite similar uses, but be going to is used to make a prediction when we can see evidence for something, whereas should is used to say something is probable because it is what we'd normally expect. For example:

It's going to rain. (I can see dark clouds in the sky)
Sarah should get home at 5. (She normally gets home at that time)

2. In general, any of the verb forms used to talk about the future can be used in questions with when.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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