What are you doing tomorrow? Who do you think will win the next World Cup? To answer questions such as these in English, you need to know how to express your plans and predictions for the future. There are various structures which can do this. For example:
- a. Tomorrow, I’m having a barbecue with friends.
- b. I think Brazil will win the next World Cup.
When do you use this grammar area?
English has various different structures for expressing ideas in the future. The central factor in choosing which structure to use is our level of certainty that the event will happen. In the examples above, sentence a expresses a concrete plan. To transmit this idea of high certainty, we use the Present Continuous tense. On the other hand, sentence b expresses a prediction based on personal opinion. To transmit this idea of lower certainty, we use the modal “will” (also known as the Future Simple tense).
What are the rules for the structure?
The table below shows some of the most popular forms for talking about the future.
|Form | Example + translation | When to use it|
To express a very concrete plan for the future (common for arrangements in the near future)
To express an action/event which forms part of a future timetable
To express a plan or an intention for the future, or
To express a prediction about the future, based on opinion (commonly used with expressions of doubt like "I think", "maybe", "perhaps", etc.)*
* Note that the Future Simple can also be used for other functions. It is common to use it to express promises ("I’ll phone you later"), offers ("Don’t worry, I’ll help you to paint your flat"), spontaneous decisions ("Oh no, the supermarket is closed! I’ll have to get take-away"), as well as other functions. See British Council LearnEnglish for a more detailed list of ways to talk about the future in English.
Exception and variations
To use "will" in a negative sentence, there are two possible ways. The more formal option is simply to say "will not", e.g.
- The government suggest that the economy will not recover next year.
However, the much more common option is to use the word "won’t" e.g.
- If I don’t have the money, maybe I won’t go on holidays next summer.
The modal "will" can also be used to create two other tenses in the future. The Future Continuous expresses an action which will be in progress at a certain point in the future, e.g.
- This time tomorrow, I’ll be giving a presentation to over 100 people!
(structure: subject + will + be + gerund).
The Future Perfect tense expresses an action/situation which will be finished at a certain point in the future, e.g.
- By the end of next year, I’ll have finished my Masters completely
(structure: subject + will + have + past participle).
Here is some online practice of these future tenses or read our recent post on Perfect aspect in English.
In addition to the structures above, there are many phrases with the verb "to be" which can express ideas in the future. For example:
|Form | Example + translation | When to use it|
To be about to
To express an action which is going to happen very soon
To be likely to
To express an action which we expect to happen at a certain moment in the future
To be due to
To express an action/situation which will probably happen in the future
What common mistakes do speakers of Portuguese make with this grammar area?
When using the "going to" form, students often forget to include the verb "to be" as part of this structure:
Os cientistas dizem que este verão será o mais quente de sempre >
- Scientists say that this summer going to be the hottest ever. ✗
- Scientists say that this summer is going to be the hottest ever. ✓
Muitos fazem uma utilização excessiva do Future Simple. Quando querem expressar uma ideia no futuro, pensam automaticamente na palavra "will", incluindo nos casos em que não é apropriado (por exemplo, para planos concretos ou atos programados):
A minha tia vai-se reformar no próximo mês >
- My aunt will retire next month. ✗
- My aunt is retiring next month (ou talvez "My aunt is going to retire next month"). ✓
As expressões temporais com when, once, until e after são seguidas diretamente por um presente em inglês, ainda que a ideia se relacione com o futuro:
Quando esta música terminar, desligo o rádio >
- I’ll turn off the radio when this song will finish. ✗
- I’ll turn off the radio when this song finishes. ✓
Are there any famous examples?
Game of Thrones - Fans of this famous TV and book series will know the much-repeated line "Winter is coming", a warning to the people of Westeros to be prepared for the hardships which the future will bring. The Present Continuous is used to emphasise the inevitability of this future event.
See you again - One of the most popular songs in the history of YouTube, this song is a tribute to the late actor Paul Walker of the movie franchise The Fast And The Furious. The singer talks to his friend who has died, telling him: "I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again".
Trainspotting - In this 1996 movie, a Scottish drug-addict called Mark decides that he is going to try to end his addiction and become a "normal" citizen: "The truth is that I'm a bad person. But, that's going to change … I'm cleaning up and I'm moving on … I'm going to be just like you."
Cada uma das seguintes frases contém um erro. Encontre-o e corrija-o.
- I will meet my friend at 7 o’clock this evening.
- Tim going to visit his brother this weekend.
- This time next year, I will live in Berlin.
- Mia is about to sell her house in the next five years.
- I think I’m likely pass my driving test next week.
- After the movie will finish, I’ll meet you in front of the cinema.
- Aisha wants to study Medicine when she is going to go to university.
Answers (a long way) below
- I am meeting my friend at 7 o’clock this evening (or "I am going to meet…").
- Tim is going to visit his brother this weekend.
- This time next year, I will be living in Berlin.
- Mia is due to sell her house in the next five years (or "Mia is going to sell…").
- I think I’m likely to pass my driving test next week.
- After the movie finishes, I’ll meet you in front of the cinema.
- Aisha wants to study Medicine when she goes to university.