There is no way the future can be certain. We are aware of the past and the present, but we can’t be aware of the future. It is possible for us to be 100% certain about the past and present, but there is no way for us to have that certainty about the future. English contains different structures and tenses which discuss the future, and this is decided by the level of certainty one has about what will happen in the future.
Despite what many believe, there is no such thing as a future tense in the English language. Instead, we can use special constructions, modal verbs and other tenses to speak about the future.
Will is a word commonly used to talk about the future, and is identified as a modal auxiliary verb. An example of this is: I will see you tomorrow. This is commonly referred to as the “future simple tense”, but this is not a technical term because there are no future tenses in English.
Here are the three separate ways in which we use will to talk about the future:
When there is no plan to do something prior to when we speak, we use will. The decision is always made at the time of speaking, like a sudden decision. Here are some examples:
- Wait, I’ll get the cookies.
- We will see what is on the menu.
- Maybe we’ll go out and see a movie tonight.
In these three examples, the decision was made at the time of speaking and not a moment before that.
Will is also used with the verb think:
- I think I’ll make supper tomorrow.
- I think I’ll have a party tonight.
- I don’t think I’ll see you tonight.
When making a prediction (a guess) about the future, will is often used. Again, there is no certainty – instead, we say what we think will happen. The following are examples of will used in this context.
- It will snow for the next week.
- Children will not go to that show.
- Do you think I will get the job?
When we are not speaking spur of the moment and have a firm plan, we can use will with be. See these examples:
- I will be at the party tomorrow.
- There will be 3 people coming to see the movie with us.
- Dinner will be at 6:00 pm.
Future With Going to
When we already know our plan, the special going to construction is used, because the decision is made prior to speaking. See these examples:
- I am going to the park today.
- We’re not going to see the band perform anymore.
- Where are you going to go on your holiday?
These examples all include us knowing of our decision prior to speaking.
When we find evidence (clues), we can sometimes make guesses about what will happen in the future. In this case, we use going to. See these examples:
- It’s so cold outside. Winter is going to be here soon.
- It’s 9:30. You’re going to be late for class.
- I ate too much. I’m not going to have enough room for dessert.
The cold weather, time, and feeling the person has in their stomach are all clues that allow us to guess what will happen in the future.
- We can use will even if we don’t have good evidence. People often have feelings about what will happen and can make predictions anyways: “It will hail tomorrow.”
- Going to is used when the sentence is a prediction that has good evidence: “Class is going to be canceled tomorrow.” The professor announced that class would be canceled, so there’s a good chance it will be.
Future With Present Continuous
When we talk about the future, we often use the present continuous tense, and use it to talk about action taking place in the present. Adding a future word allows us to talk about the future and is clearly expressed or understood from context. (Words like tomorrow, next week, later in the month can all be used for this).
It doesn’t matter much which one we use – there is usually no difference between an intention that someone has (something they are going to do) and an established plan (present continuous).
- We’re going to skating tomorrow.
- We’re going skating tomorrow.
When we have a plan before we speak, we use the present continuous. See these examples:
- John is performing in the concert next week.
- They can’t go to the zoo tomorrow. They’re sick.
- We’re going on a cruise this Christmas.
Future For Schedules
The present simple is used to express the future and when an event is set in time, such as when something is scheduled (marked on a calendar, for example). A future words such as next week, at 8:00 am, in 2014, etc, are used.
The following verbs are used in this way:
- be, open, close, begin, start, end, finish, arrive, come, leave, return
See these sentences:
- The bus leaves Minnesota at 6 am tomorrow.
- Maria starts yoga next week.
- Tomorrow is Monday.