by Viv Quarry (www.vivquarry.com)
There are seven verb forms which express future time in English.
1. The present simple
2. The present continuous
3. The 'going to' structure
4. The future simple
5. The future continuous
6. The future perfect simple
7. The future perfect continuous
1. The present simple is used for future events based on a timetable or programme of events.
My flight arrives in New York at 6pm tomorrow evening. (It says this on my ticket)
The film starts at 6pm tonight. (It's in the TV guide)
2. The present continuous is used for future arrangements between people.
I'm meeting my sister after work. (We have arranged to do this)
The plumber is coming at 4pm tomorrow afternoon. (The plumber told me he would come at this time)
3 The future simple (will) and 'going to'
In order to understand the difference between 'will' and 'going to', it's important to recognise the difference between future actions, predictions and future facts.
3.1 Future plans and intentions (actions).
'Will' is used for spontaneous decisions. This means that the decision isn't premeditated (the decision to act is made at the same time you speak).
It's hot in here. I'll open the window. (I've decided to do this now)
It's John's birthday today.
Is it? I'll call him to wish him a 'happy birthday'. (I didn't know that)
'Going to' is used when the decision is made before speaking (premeditated).
Fred's going to retire next year. (He decided to this some time ago)
It's John's birthday today.
I know. I'm going to meet him tonight. (I already knew about it)
Note! In the example in section 2 above "I'm meeting my sister" means that the event has been 'arranged' i.e. both people know about it and have agreed to do something. It's an event which may be written in someone's diary.
With "I'm going to meet him", the use of 'going to' implies that the event hasn't been arranged and that John doesn't know about the meeting yet (a surprise party may have been arranged).
When the verb used is 'go' or 'come', only the present continuous can be employed. In this case it doesn't matter whether it is an arrangement or a plan.
I'm going to London tomorrow. (NOT "I'm going to go to London")
My parents are coming to visit us next weekend. (NOT "My parents are going to come to visit us")
3.2 Future predictions
'Will' expresses a prediction made without any evidence or supporting reasons. It's commonly used with the following verbs and expressions: 'think', 'know', 'be sure'
Barcelona will win the match. (That's what I think)
I'm sure he won't be late. (I believe this to be true)
'Going to' is more common for predictions based on present evidence or with supporting reasons.
It's very cloudy. I think it's going to rain. (present evidence)
Barcelona are going to win. They've never lost to that team before. (supporting reason)
3.3 Future facts
A future fact is neither a prediction nor a plan, and 'will' is more natural for this kind of event.
The next World Cup will be in Brazil.
Note! In questions, there is little or no difference between the present continuous, 'will' and 'going to' for future actions.
Will you see Fred later on? (implies "I don't know")
Are you going to see Fred later on? (implies "I think this is possible, but I don't know")
Are you seeing Fred later on? (implies "Have you arranged to meet Fred?")
or between 'will' and 'going to' for predictions (the present continuous can't be used for predictions).
Who will win the match? (implies "guess!")
Who's going to win the match? (implies "I think you may know something about the teams")
4. The future continuous
4.1 An activity in progress at a specified future time
Don't phone me at 8pm because I'll be watching the football. (Activity will be in progress at this time)
This time next month I'll be lying on a beach on a Greek island. (This is what I hope to be doing)
4.2 A situation which will happen in the natural course of events.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This is your pilot speaking. We will be flying at a height of 37,000 feet. (The pilot didn't decide this, all flights must travel at this altitude)
Now that you've resigned from your job, you'll be looking for a new one. (This would be the natural thing to do)
Because the future continuous implies that the person speaking isn't directly involved in the decision making process, it can be used in tactful questions.
Dad. Will you be using the car tonight? (Can I borrow it if you aren't?)
5. The future perfect simple
An action or state which will finish before or on a specified future time.
By September I'll have worked for this company for five years.
Don't ask me for the report on Friday because I won't have finished it by then.
6. The future perfect continuous
This tense is similar to the future perfect simple but used when an activity lasts over a longer period of time or the focus is on an activity.
Tom will be furious! He'll have been waiting for hours by the time we get there!
Note! The future continuous and future perfect tenses are similar to their equivalent narrative tenses (the past continuous and past perfect). See Viv's narrative tenses worksheet.