Future Tense

1. What is a Future Tense?

If we want to write and speak about things that we think will or could happen in the future, we have to use the future tense. It shows that the timeline of the action hasn’t actually occurred yet, but will later. We discuss all kinds of things about the future, from wishes to predictions; starting tonight, tomorrow, or even 20 years from now, so there are different types of future tenses to help share them all. But, the future tense is special, because unlike the past and present tenses, it doesn’t have its own verb forms.

 

2. Examples of Future Tense

The future tense can be expressed in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common:

  • I will write a book.     Simple Future
  • He will be writing a book.      Future Continuous
  • They will have written the book.      Future Perfect
  • We will have been writing the book in class.      Future Perfect Continuous

 

3. Parts of the Future Tense

In the past and present tenses, we conjugate verbs so they it reflect the time—but, the future tense doesn’t have its own verb forms! So, for the future tense, we always need “helping verbs,” called modal auxiliary verbs and auxiliary verbs—these “help” create it.

a. Modal Auxiliary Verbs

Modal auxiliary verbs, or modal auxiliaries, are essential in the future tense. First, they show how likely it is for something to happen. Second (and more importantly), without them, we can’t form the future tense at all! The main modal auxiliaries are:

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • shall
  • should
  • will
  • would

To create the future tense, we generally use will or shall. Here are some examples, with the modals in green.

  • Jane might be cooking dinner.      A chance it will happen
    Jane could cook dinner later.      Possible that it will happen
  • Jane must cook dinner tonight.      Very likely to happen
    Jane will be cooking dinner.      Definitely will happen

b. Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs, or auxiliaries, are important in all three tenses. Though they have a difficult name, they are easy to use—they’re just versions of the verbs to be, have, and do:

  • To be: am, are, is, be, been, being, was, were
  • Have: had, has, have, having
  • Do: do, did, does

We need auxiliaries to add grammatical meaning to a sentence. Look at these examples:

  • Jane will going to bed at 8pm.
  • Jane will slept about 8 hours, so she won’t be tired.

These sentences are definitely missing something! They sound pretty strange, so let’s complete them with auxiliaries (purple):

  • Jane will be going to bed at 8pm.
  • Jane will have slept about 8 hours, so she won’t be tired.

c. Verbs

Usually, the main verb of a sentence needs to be conjugated to match the tense, but in English there is no future verb tense. So, to create it, we always need to use a modal auxiliary, like will, and it often needs an auxiliary, like be. This chart shows how to use verbs, modals and auxiliaries to express the future tense.

Base VerbSimple FutureFuture ContinuousFuture Perfect Future Perfect Continuous
talkwill talkwill be talkingwill have talkedwill have been talking
hearwill hearwill be hearingwill have heardwill have been hearing
dowill dowill be doingwill have donewill have been doing
runwill runwill be runningwill have runwill have been running
workwill workwill be workingwill have workedwill have been working
trywill trywill be tryingwill have triedwill have been trying

 

You can take a look at how these verbs work in other tenses in our articles on the past tense and the present tense.

 

4. Types of Future Tenses

There are lots of ways to talk about the future, so we need several types of the future tense. Here we will discuss four important types: the simple future, future continuous, future perfect, and future perfect continuous, and each has their own important purpose.

a. Simple Future

You can use the simple future to talk about something (like an action or event) that will happen any time in the future, and also to talk about something that will happen one time. In the simple future, we use the base form of the verb with a modal auxiliary, like will. So, the simple future follows the form Subject + modal + Base Verb.

  • I will eat a cheeseburger for dinner.
  • Jane might buy a new car tomorrow.
  • You will look great in that dress!
  • She should pass the exam, I’m not worried.

b. Future Continuous

The future continuous tense talk about things will be happening continuously in the future. To show this, we use a modal, the verb to be, and a verb ending in ing. Sentences in the future continuous tense follow the Subject + modal + Verb to be + ing Verb model:

  • Jane will be driving to work.
  • I will be eating a cheeseburgers until the day I die.
  • They should be running the race at 6pm.
  • The dogs could be barking loudly when you arrive.

c. Future Perfect

The future perfect tense shows that an event will have happened before another thing in the future. It often expresses that by the time one action or event happens, another will have happened. To use the future perfect, we need to place the modal will and the auxiliary have before the past form of the main verb (this shows that we “will have done” an action). Using a past verb in the future tense may seem confusing, but remember, it’s to show that something will have happened before another thing, so we need it!

So, a sentence written in the future perfect should follow the Subject + will + have + Past form of main verb pattern:

  • Jane will have traveled the world by the time she turns 30.
  • When you get home I will have eaten dinner already, but we can go out for dessert!
  • They will have lived in 10 states once they move to New York.
  • He will have taken the exam already, so he won’t need to study more.

d. Future Perfect Continuous

The future perfect continuous describes events and/or actions that have been going on continuously until a certain time in the future. Often, it’s used to show cause and effect; in other words, because one thing will have been happening, another will happen. To use it, we need to combine have and been with the continuous form of the verb (ending in ing), this shows that the action or event “will have been” happening.

A sentence in the future perfect continuous follows Subject + modal + have been + ing Verb:

  • Jane will have been working for 12 hours, so I don’t think she will want to cook.
  • I should have been watering the plants every day; I hope they won’t die.
  • They will have been living in that house for 10 years this March.
  • He will have been driving since noon, so he will need a rest.

 

5. How to Write in the Future Tense

Because it doesn’t have its own verb forms, using the future tense can sometimes be more tricky than using the past or present. The most important thing to remember is that the future tense is only used to talk about things that haven’t happened yet—but will in the FUTURE. It can only predict, assume, and suggest that events will occur. So, remember these few important rules:

  • The future tense is for things that will happen later
  • There are no “future verbs”
  • To create the future tense, you always need modals and auxiliaries

Finally, here are some questions that can help you figure out whether or not you should use the future tense for your writing:

  • Are you talking about something that hasn’t happened yet?
  • Are you trying to show a cause and effect situation that could occur?
  • Are you making a prediction, assumption, or suggestion about the future?
  • Will something be going on for a while, past this moment?
  • Will something happen later because of something else in the past?

If you answered yes, then you are talking about the future, and you should use the future tense! If not, then you can consider whether the past or the present tense may be better for what you are trying to say.

Test your Knowledge

1.
TRUE or FALSE: In English there is no future verb tense.

a.

b.

2.
The future tense can be used to make _________________ about things that will happen.

a.

b.

c.

d.

3.
Which tense is often used to show cause and effect?

a.

b.

c.

d.

4.
TRUE or FALSE: To create the future tense we always need to use a modal auxiliary.

a.

b.

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