The Future

Will + Going to + Present Continuous + Present Simple

= Future

Got your cup of tea/coffee/glass of wine? Let’s go!

Think about this – in English, you can have a conversation purely about the future, using only present tenses. Isn’t that wonderful? I can tell you all about my plans for the future – next week, next year, tomorrow – and not actually use a future tense.

Why?

I don’t know. (Because it’s fun?)

How?

I’m going to show you. Ready?

When it comes to the future, as you can see on our handy chart (available here as a simple download or print-out, if you don’t have one) we have the usual options, as we do for present and past; simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous. With Future Simple, we use ‘will.’

‘Tomorrow will be sunny and dry, perfect beach weather.’

‘When I finish school, I think I will study medicine at uni.’

Cool. No problems. Will = future. Easy.

So what about this sentence?

This weekend I am going to visit my Nana.

And this one?

I’m having dinner with my sister tonight.

In the first sentence, we have ‘going to’ + infinitive.

In the second sentence we have a sentence constructed in what looks exactly like the Present Continuous, but has a future meaning courtesy of the time word, ‘tonight’.

Both of these sentences are talking about something that is happening in the future and neither of them use ‘will.’

And look at this sentence below:

The bus to Berlin leaves at 8am tomorrow morning.

That sentence looks suspiciously like the Present Simple.

All of a sudden, we have three extra possibilitieson top of ‘will’. Things aren’t so simple anymore. How do we tell the difference between each of the four possibilities?

Don’t panic and start by remembering this: there isn’t a huge amount of difference between using ‘going to’ and the Present Continuous, and most native speakers use them interchangeably without even realising there is a slight difference. I will tell you the technical difference, but I will also ask you not to worry so much about it. More on that in a second.

Let’s look at the table below. Read through it, with your cup of tea. Study the examples.

futuretimetable

So you can see there is a technical difference between ‘going to’ and Present Continuous with future meaning, but it is one that can lead to a lot of hair splitting and needless confusion. So I’m going to give you a free pass on this one – it isn’t a big deal. Reading, watching TV and films, moving to an English speaking country for the rest of your life, all of that will help clarify the nuances. Other than that, don’t worry, save your energy for other issues. I think it is more important you separate ‘will’ from going to/Present Continuous, than separate ‘going to’ from Present Continuous.

Furthermore, sometimes you can use the Present Simple for a scheduled event, or the Present Continuous. The coffee is both an arrangement and something scheduled – so it can be expressed using both options.

Eg: Want to have lunch tomorrow?

I can’t, I’m having coffee with my boss. // I can’t, I have a coffee date with my boss.

And, of course, you can have whole conversations using each and every option available to you; which construction you choose depends on –

  • the level of intent
  • the level of organisation/arrangement
  • when you made the decision
  • whether or not you have a definite plan
  • whether you know something is going to happen or you are making a prediction

Guess what? There are even more ways to talk about the future – certain verbs, modal verbs, etc. But I’m going to leave that for next week.

Any questions, ideas, comments?

You know the drill; email me livhambrett@gmail.com, Tweet me or leave a comment below.

Viel Spaß!

Catch up …

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2

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