• 3-minute read
  • 26th October 2017

Grammar Tips: The Future Tense

In the world of English grammar, there is no future. OK, that sounded a bit dramatic. What we meant is that there’s no dedicated future tense verb form in English. For instance, while the past tense of ‘say’ is ‘said’, there isn’t a different term to express saying something in the future tense.

The future: helpfully signposted.

This is quite unusual for a language, but we’ve not let it hold us back. Instead, we talk about the future using the words ‘will’ and ‘shall’. And in this post, we look at how this system works.

Will vs. Shall

First, though, we should address the difference between ‘will’ and ‘shall’. Traditionally, ‘shall’ is used with first-person pronouns (e.g. ‘we’ or ‘I’), while ‘will’ is used with second- and third-person pronouns (e.g. ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’).

In practice, though, ‘will’ is far more common with all pronouns in modern English. The only time you’ll have to maintain the traditional distinction is in very formal writing.

Simple Future

In the future simple tense, we combine ‘will’ or ‘shall’ with the base form of a verb. This is used for various reasons, such as making a prediction or expressing an intention:

We will bake a cake.

With all future tense forms, you can begin a sentence with ‘will’ or ‘shall’ to ask a question. Likewise, you can add ‘not’ after ‘will’ or ‘shall’ to make a negation:

Shall I eat the whole cake myself?

We will not let you do that.

In less formal writing, it’s also common to see contractions of negations (i.e. ‘won’t’ or ‘shan’t’).

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Future Continuous

The future continuous tense is used to discuss ongoing actions in the future. It is formed by combining ‘will/shall be’ with a present participle (i.e. an ‘-ing’ verb):

I will be going on holiday next week.

As above, this tense can also be used to ask questions or express negations.

Future Perfect

The future perfect tense combines ‘will/shall have’ with a past participle. We use it when discussing an action that will have been completed in the future:

She will have visited every continent by the end of next year.

Take care to look out for irregular verbs when using this tense, as the past participle forms may not follow standard spelling rules (e.g. the past participle of ‘swim’ is ‘swam’, not ‘swimmed’).

Future Continuous Perfect

Finally, the future continuous perfect tense is used to discuss ongoing actions occurring over a period of time in the future. It is formed using ‘will/shall have been’ plus a present participle:

We will have been attending for five years next Friday.

Usually, the future continuous perfect tense includes a time expression (such as ‘for five years’) to show how long something is expected to have happened.

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