In grammar, a future tense is a verb form that generally marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future. An example of a future tense form is the French aimera, meaning "will love", derived from the verb aimer ("love"). English does not have a future tense formed by verb inflection in this way, although it has a number of ways to express the future, particularly the construction with the auxiliary verb will or shall or is/am/are going to and grammarians differ in whether they describe such constructions as representing a future tense in English, one and all.
The "future" expressed by the future tense usually means the future relative to the moment of speaking, although in contexts where relative tense is used it may mean the future relative to some other point in time under consideration. Future tense can be denoted by the glossing abbreviation
- 1 Expressions
- 2 Expressions of relative tense
- 3 Germanic languages
- 4 Latin and Romance
- 5 Slavic languages
- 6 Celtic languages
- 7 Semitic languages
- 8 Mandarin Chinese
- 9 Creoles
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The nature of the future, necessarily uncertain and at varying distances ahead, means that the speaker may refer to future events with the modality either of probability (what the speaker expects to happen) or intent (what the speaker plans to make happen). Whether future expression is realis or irrealis depends not so much on an objective ontological notion of future reality, but rather on the degree of the speaker's conviction that the event will in fact come about.:p.20
In many languages there is no grammatical (morphological or syntactic) indication of future tense. Future meaning is supplied by the context, with the use of temporal adverbs such as "later", "next year", etc. Such adverbs (in particular words meaning "tomorrow" and "then") sometimes develop into grammaticalized future tense markers. (A tense used to refer specifically to occurrences taking place on the following day is called a crastinal tense.)
In other languages, mostly of European origin, specific markers indicate futurity. These structures constitute a future tense. In many cases, an auxiliary verb is used, as in English, where futurity is often indicated by the modal auxiliary will (or shall). However, some languages combine such an auxiliary with the main verb to produce a simple (one-word, morphological) future tense. This is the origin of the future tense in Western Romance languages like French and Italian (see below).
A given language may have more than one way to express futurity. English, for example, often refers to future events using present tense forms or other structures such as the going-to future, besides the canonical form with will/shall. In addition, the verb forms used for the future tense can also be used to express other types of meaning; English again provides examples of this (see English modal verbs for the various meanings that both will and shall can have besides simply expressing futurity).
Expressions of relative tense
It is sometimes possible to mark the time of an occurrence as being in the past or future not relative to the present moment (the moment of speaking), but relative to a time of reference, which can itself be in the past or future (or in some hypothetical reality) relative to the present moment. (See relative tense.) Thus an occurrence may be marked as taking place in the "past of the future", "future of the past", etc. (For the "past of the past", see pluperfect.)
The past of the future, marking an occurrence expected to take place before some future reference time, is typically marked by a future perfect form (in languages that have such a form), as in the English "I will have finished by tomorrow afternoon."
The "future of the past" may be expressed in various ways in English. It is possible to use would in its capacity as the past tense of the future marker will (see English modal verbs and future-in-the-past); for example: "The match started at midday but would not end until the evening." It is also possible to use the past tense of other expressions that express future reference, as in "I was going to wait"; "I was to wait"; "I was about to wait." Such expressions can also be put into other tenses and moods (and non-finite forms), to achieve future reference in hypothetical and future situations, e.g., "I would be going to take part if ..."; "I will be about to leave." More examples can be found in the section Expressions of relative future in the article on the going-to future.
In Germanic languages, including English, a common expression of the future is using the present tense, with the futurity expressed using words that imply future action (I go to Berlin tomorrow or I am going to Berlin tomorrow). There is no simple (morphological) future tense as such. However, the future can also be expressed by employing an auxiliary construction that combines certain present tense auxiliary verbs with the simple infinitive (stem) of the main verb. These auxiliary forms vary between the languages. Other, generally more informal, expressions of futurity use an auxiliary with the compound infinitive of the main verb (as with the English is going to ...).
English grammar provides a number of ways to indicate the future nature of an occurrence. Some argue that English does not have a future tense—that is, a grammatical form that always indicates futurity—nor does it have a mandatory form for the expression of futurity. However, there are several generally accepted ways to indicate futurity in English, and some of them—particularly those that use will or shall—are frequently described as future tense.
The will/shall future consists of the modal verb will or shall together with the bare infinitive of the main verb, as in "He will win easily" or "I shall do it when time permits". (Prescriptive grammarians prefer will in the second and third persons and shall in the first person, reversing the forms to express obligation or determination, but in practice shall and will are generally used interchangeably, with will being more common. For details see shall and will.) The meaning of this construction is close to that expressed by the future tense in other languages. However the same construction with will or shall can have other meanings that do not indicate futurity, or else indicate some modality in addition to futurity (as in "He will make rude remarks", meaning he has a habit of doing so, or, "You shall act on my behalf", giving an order). For details of these meanings, see the sections on will and shall in the article on English modal verbs.
The form of the will/shall future described above is frequently called the simple future (or future simple). Other constructions provide additional auxiliaries that express particular aspects: the future progressive (or future continuous) as in "He will be working"; the future perfect as in "We will have finished"; and the future perfect progressive as in "I will have been practicing." For detail on these, see the relevant sections of Uses of English verb forms. (For more on expressions of relative tense, such as the future perfect, see also the section above.)
Several other English constructions commonly refer to the future:
- Present tense forms, as in "The train leaves at 5," or, "My cousins arrive tomorrow." Since these grammatical forms are used more canonically to refer to present situations, they are not generally described as future tense; in sentences like those just given they may be described as "present tense with future meaning". Use of the present tense (rather than forms with will) is mandatory in some subordinate clauses referring to the future, such as "If I feel better next week, ..." and "As soon as they arrive, ...". For more details see the sections on the simple present, present progressive and dependent clauses in the article on English verb forms.
- The going-to future, e.g., "John is going to leave tonight."
- The construction with a finite form of the copula verb be together with the to-infinitive, e.g., "John is to leave tonight". (With the zero copula of newspaper headline style, this becomes simply "John to leave tonight".) For details see am to.
- The construction with to be about to, e.g., "John is about to leave", referring to the expected immediate future. (A number of lexical expressions with similar meaning also exist, such as to be on the point of (doing something).)
- Use of modal verbs with future meaning, to combine the expression of future time with certain modality: "I must do this" (also mun in Northern English dialect); "We should help him"; "I can get out of here"; "We may win"; "You might succeed". The same modal verbs are also often used with present rather than future reference. For details of their meanings and usage, see English modal verbs.
Questions and negatives are formed from all of the above constructions in the regular manner: see Questions and Negation in the English grammar article. The auxiliaries will and shall form the contracted negations won't and shan't (they can also sometimes be contracted when not negated, to 'll).
The various ways of expressing the future carry different meanings, implying not just futurity but also aspect (the way an action or state takes place in time) and/or modality (the attitude of the speaker toward the action or state). The precise interpretation must be based on the context. In particular there is sometimes a distinction in usage between the will/shall future and the going-to future (although in some contexts they are interchangeable). For more information see the going-to future article.
The use of the present tense in future meaning is much more common in German than it is in English. Especially in colloquial German, but also in the written standard language, future tenses are quite rarely used if the future meaning is already evident through context or a temporal adverb or clause. For example:
- In zehn Jahren bin ich Millionär.
- In ten years, I will be a millionaire.
- Literally: In ten years am I millionaire.
German uses an auxiliary for the future: werden (which can also mean "to become.") The main verb after werden is a simple infinitive. The infinitive main verb is placed at the end of the sentence or clause. For example:
- Ich werde dich morgen nach der Arbeit anrufen.
- I will call you tomorrow after work.
- Literally: I will you tomorrow after the work call.
A future perfect can be formed by means of replacing the simple infinitive with a past infinitive (auxiliary + past participle): Ich werde dich angerufen haben: "I will have called you."
Some grammarians (e.g. J. Kromeyer, J. C. Gottsched, J. B. v. Antesperg) also labeled or label other forms future forms, like:
- imperative future: du sollst loben (you shall praise)
- indicative uncertain future (German: ungewiß zukünftige Zeit, Latin: tempus futurum incertum): ich will loben (I want to praise)
- indicative certain future (German: gewiß künftige Zeit, Latin: tempus futurum certum), or indicative future I: ich werde loben (I will praise)
- indicative conditional future (German: bedingt zukünftige Zeit, Latin: tempus futurum conditionatum), or conjunctive II future: ich würde loben (I would praise)
All these wordings do still exists, but nowadays (usually) only ich werde loben (future I) and sometimes ich würde loben (conjunctive II future) are labeled future forms.
- gaan + infinitive: Ik ga het boek lezen (I'm going to read the book). "Gaan" is a cognate of "to go".
- zullen + infinitive: Ik zal het boek lezen (I will/shall read the book). "Zullen" is a cognate of "shall".
- present tense + context or a temporal adverb or clause: Hoe lang blijft hij in Nederland? (How long will he stay in the Netherlands?) Unmarked, no English-language equivalent.
Zullen + infinitive is more similar to 'shall' than to 'will'. It is used to:
- express a promise or a proposal
- emphasize that something will certainly happen
- express that an event is likely going to take place (by explicitly mentioning the probability)
English 'will' and Dutch wil, although cognates, have over the centuries shifted in meaning, such that 'will' is almost identical to 'shall', whereas Dutch wil means 'want', as in Ik wil het doen (I want to do it).
Gaan + infinitive can be compared with the English "going to" . It is used:
- to express an intended action (but not a promise, proposal, or solemn plan);
- to say that an event is going to take place (without emphasizing the certainty or mentioning the probability).
Icelandic and Old Norse
- munu expressing a probable future
- skulu (shall) implying obligation or determination.
It is believed that in Old Norse munu expressed the pure future, skulu (shall) expressed obligation or determination as it still does, and a third auxiliary, vilja ("will"), expressed will or intent.
A common auxiliary expression of the future, which takes the compound infinitive, is:
- ætla expressing intention.
(So "Ég ætla að koma"; I will come)
Current standard Norwegian auxiliaries are:
- vil (cognate with "will"; used to indicate desire)
- skal (cognate with "shall"; used to indicate intent)
- kan (cognate with "can"; used to indicate ability)
An occasional usage is:
- mon (or in Nynorsk mun.).
In Danish the future is usually unmarked, using the present tense form. Sometimes the modals vil ("want") and skal ("must") are used instead to indicate futurity, and sometimes blive "become" can have the meaning "will be". The following distinctions illustrate some of their uses:
Det vil aldrig ske "That will never happen" (a prediction) but Det skal ej ske "That shall not happen" (a promise).
Hvad skal du i aften? "What will you (do) tonight?"; Jeg skal besøge mine forældre i weekenden "I will visit my parents this weekend"; Skal du hjem nu? "Will you go (are you going) home now?".
Han vil hentes "He wants to_be_picked_up"; Han skal hentes "He must be_picked_up". Han vil blive hentet "He will become (be) picked_up (it's already arranged)", but Han skal blive hentet "He will become (be) picked_up (I promise)".
Jeg skal til fødselsdag i morgen "I will (go) to (a) birthday_party tomorrow". Det bliver sjov "That becomes (will be) fun". Vi bliver 15 "We become (will be) 15 (there will be fifteen of us)". Han bliver 40 "He becomes (will be) 40".
Swedish:pp.107–108 skall strongly implies intention, but with an adverb such as nog "probably" it can avoid the implication of intentionality: Det här skall nog gå bra "This will probably go well". However, the past tense of skall, skulle, can be used without such an adverb to express predictions in the past : Pelle sa, att det skulle bli varmt på eftermiddagen "Pelle said that it would be warm in the afternoon."
Latin and Romance
The future tense forms in Latin varied by conjugation. Here is a sample of the future tense for the first conjugation verb 'amare', 'to love'.
|amabo||I will (shall) love|
|amabis||you (singular) will love|
|amabit||he, she, it will love|
|amabimus||we will (shall) love|
|amabitis||you (plural) will love|
|amabunt||they will love|
See Latin conjugation for further details. Sound changes in Vulgar Latin made future forms difficult to distinguish from other verb forms (e.g., amabit "he will love" vs. amavit "he loved"), and the Latin simple future forms were gradually replaced by periphrastic structures involving the infinitive and an auxiliary verb, such as debere, venire, velle, and especially habere. All of the modern Romance languages have grammaticalized one of these periphrastic constructions for expressing the future tense; none of them has preserved the original Latin future.
Future tense with habere
While Classical Latin used a set of suffixes to the main verb for the future tense, later Vulgar Latin adopted the use of habere (to have) with the infinitive, as for example:
petant aut petant venire habet ("whether they ask or do not ask, it will come")
From this construction, the major Western Romance languages have simple future tense forms that derive from the infinitive followed by a conjugated form of the verb "to have" (Latin habere). As the auxiliary verb lost its modal force (from a verb expressing obligation, desire, or intention, to a simple marker of tense), it also lost syntactic autonomy (becoming an enclitic) and phonological substance (e.g., Latin 1st sing. habeo > ayyo > Old French ai, Modern French [e]). Thus the sequence of Latin verbs amare habeo ("I have to love") gave rise to French aimerai, Spanish amaré, etc. "I will love".
Phonetic changes also affected the infinitive in the evolution of this form, so that in the modern languages the future stem is not always identical to the infinitive. Consider the following Spanish examples:
- "go out": infinitive salir → 3rd sing. future saldrá (not *salirá)
- "do": infinitive hacer → 3rd sing. future hará (not *hacerá)
See the grammar articles for the individual languages for more details about verb conjugation.
- "love": infinitive a iubi → 3rd sing. future va iubi
Romanian also forms a future tense from the subjunctive, with a preceding particle, o, also derived from vrea:
- "love": infinitive a iubi → 3rd sing. future o să iubească (lit. (want) that he love)
In Portuguese, the simple future, called "futuro do indicativo", is quite similar to Spanish. However, the future may also be formed with the auxiliary verb "ir" (to go) in the simple present and with the main verb in the infinitive (vou cantar, vou bater, etc.), but it cannot be done for the verb "ir", as something like "vou ir" would sound very strange.
In Portuguese a pronoun may be placed between the root verb and the future tense ending, as in dar-lhe-ei ("I will give it to you"), where the pronoun lhe ("to you") is inserted into the future verb darei ("(I) will give"), between the root (dar) and the future tense ending (ei). This phenomenon is called mesoclisis.
To this auxiliary verb, the infinitive of the verb to be put into future tense is simply appended:
- robiť (to do, to work): budem robiť (I will work, I will be working)
- hovoriť (to speak, to talk): budeme hovoriť (we will speak/talk, we will be speaking/talking)
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (November 2007)|
In Scottish Gaelic, the future tense is formed in regular verbs by adding aidh or idh to the end of the root form of the verb (idh is used if the final vowel in the root is i).
- Danns. (dance.) -> Dannsaidh mi. (I will dance.)
- Cuir. (put.) -> Cuiridh i. (She will put.)
Inserting cha before the root forms the negative. The initial consonant of the root is lenited where possible, except for d, t or s, which in certain cases is not lenited. Chan is substituted if the root begins with a vowel or an f followed by a vowel, which is also lenited.
- Cha téid mi... (I will not go...)
- Chan fheuch am peasan sin idir. (That brat will not try at all.)
In the interrogative, an is placed before the root of the verb. If the root begins with b, f, m, or p, am is used instead.
- An ith thu sin? (Will you eat that?)
- Am pòg thu i? (Will you kiss her?)
As in English, some forms are irregular - mostly common verbs. For example, the root for the word "to see" is faic, but the positive future tense form "will see" is chì.
The copula is bidh (will be), cha bhi (will not be), am bi (interrogative), and nach bi (negative interrogative).
- Bidh mi a' tighinn! (I shall be coming!)
- Cha bhi e an seo a-màireach. (He will not be here tomorrow.)
- Am bi thu air falbh as t-samhradh? (Will you be away this summer?)
- Nach bi sibh a' fuireach airson a' bhìdh? (Will not you be staying for the food, sir?)
The linking verb (that will be) is gum bi (positive) or nach bi (negative).
- Tha ise ag ràdh gum bi esan a' dol. (She said that he will be going.)
- Tha mi an dòchas nach bi iad sgìth. (I hope that they will not be tired.)
In Irish, the future tense is formed two ways in regular verbs, depending on verb class. Class I verbs add faidh or fidh to the end of the root form of the verb (fidh is used if the final vowel in the root is e or i).
- Glan. (clean.) -> Glanfaidh mé. (I will clean.)
- Cuir. (put.) -> Cuirfidh sí. (She will put.)
Class II verbs add óidh or eoidh to the end of the root form of the verb (eoidh is used if the final vowel in the root is e, i, or í).
- Eistigh. (listen.) -> Eisteoidh mé. (I will listen.)
- Imir. (play.) -> Imreoidh sí. (She will play.)
Both class I and class II verbs have a special form for the 1st person plural:
- Glan. (clean.) -> Glanfaimid. (We will clean.)
- Cuir. (put.) -> Cuirfimid. (We will put.)
- Eistigh. (listen.) -> Eisteoimid. (We will listen.)
- Imir. (put.) -> Imreoimid. (We will play.)
The negative is formed by adding ní. The initial consonant of the root is lenited.
- Ní fhreastalóidh mé... (I will not serve...)
In the interrogative, an is placed before the root of the verb, which causes eclipsis.
- An iosfaith tú sin? (Will you eat that?)
- An bpogfaigh tú í? (Will you kiss her?)
Of the ten listed irregular verbs in Irish, six show irregular future forms:
- Abair. (say.) -> Déarfaidh sí. (She will say.) (present deireann)
- Beir. (catch/bring.) -> Béarfaidh sí. (She will bring.) (present beireann)
- Faigh. (get.) -> Gheobhaidh sí. (She will get.) (present faigheann)
- Ith. (eat.) -> Iosfaidh sí. (She will eat.) (present itheann)
- Tar. (come.) -> Tiocfaidh sí. (She will come.) (present tagann)
- Teigh. (go.) -> Rachaidh sí. (She will go.) (present téann)
One additional irregular verb has an alternate future form:
- Feic. (see.) -> Chífidh sí. (She will see.) (regular future feicfidh)
The future of verb tá (be) is beidh (1pl. beimid). The copula is ("is") is is (will be), ní (will not be), an (interrogative), and nach (negative interrogative).
The linking verb (that will be) is go mbí (positive) or nach bí (negative).
- Duirt sí go mbeidh sé ag dul. (She said that he will be going.)
- Tá súil agam nach mbeidh tuirse acu. (I hope that they will not be tired.)
In Welsh, most verbal functions are expressed using constructions with bod (to be). The future may be expressed in the same way using the future tense of bod.
Fe fydda i yn... (I will...)
Fe fyddi di yn... (thou wilt...)
Fe fydd e yn... (he will...) etc.
- (The affirmative marker "fe" has no real translation in English and can easily be left out or replaced with 'mi' in North Wales. Neither word should be confused with subject pronouns which follow the verb in Welsh).
More commonly Welsh uses a construction with "Mynd" (to go)
"Rwy'n mynd i weld y ffilm yfory" (I'm going to see the film tomorrow)
Futurity can also be expressed by using words that imply future action
Dwi'n mynd yna heddiw: I am going there today.
The simple future, which uses verb suffixes conjugated with the verb, is used to express determination of action or to emphasise confidence in outcome. As in the future of bod, the affirmative marker is fe.
Biblical Hebrew has an entirely different tense system from those understood in the Indo-European language family. There is no future tense as such. Instead, verbs express completed action or uncompleted action. The future is an uncompleted action, though the expression for, for example, "David will give thanks to God" can also mean "David was giving thanks to God". The interpretation depends on the context.
Modern Hebrew, however, now has a time based tense system, developed when Hebrew was revived in the 18th and 19th century. There are linguists[who?] that believe that Modern Hebrew, as a revived language, is not a true Semitic language but something of a hybrid, using the grammar of Biblical Hebrew in an innovative way. Thus Modern Hebrew employs the imperfect as the future tense.
For example consider the sentence: I eat apples > "آكلُ تفاحاً" "Akulu tuffahan"
To express the future we have two ways: I will eat apples > "سـآكلُ تفاحاً" "Saakulu tuffahan" or: I will eat apples > "سوف آكلُ تفاحاً" "Sawfa akulu tuffahan"
The first is written as part of the verb, whereas the latter is written as a Clitic to indicate the future but preceding the verb.
In Classical Arabic the latter indicates an individual future action that usually takes place further in the future than the first mentioned form, which is usually used with verbs that relate to other actions, and mostly referring to rather near future actions. However, in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) the distinction is minimal.
Moreover, the indication of the future tense in dialectal Arabic is quite varied from one dialect to the next. Generally speaking, the words meaning "want to" (بدي / أريد أن), "go to" (أروح), "intend to"(ناوي /نويت), and many others are used daily to indicate future actions. Interestingly, in Moroccan Arabic, the word "Ghad" (غاد) is used to indicate future, which literally means "there" (or there is to happen), that is in some way similar to the English formation "there I go.."
Mandarin Chinese has no grammatical tense, instead indicating time of action from the context or using adverbs. However, the auxiliary verb 会 huì, a modal meaning "can", "know how", can alternatively indicate futurity.:p.265;:p.183 For lexical futurity, the word 要 yào, which can serve as a verb meaning "to want", can also serve as an adverb meaning "immediately"::p. 175 For example, 我要洗澡 wǒ yào xǐzǎo can mean either "I want to bathe" or "I am about to bathe". 即 jí、將 jiāng serve a similar function as tense-marking adverbs.
Creoles are languages with a vocabulary heavily based on a superstrate language but a grammar based on substrate languages and/or universal language tendencies. Some Creoles model a future tense/irrealis mood marker on "go" from the superstrate (analogous to English "am going to").:p. 188 In many creoles the future can be indicated with the progressive aspect, analogous to the English "I'm seeing him tomorrow.":p. 190 In general creoles tend to put less emphasis on marking tense than on marking aspect. When any of tense, aspect, and modality are specified, they are typically indicated with invariant pre-verbal markers in the sequence anterior relative tense (prior to the time focused on), irrealis mode (conditional or future), imperfective aspect.:pp. 176–9, p. 191
Jamaican English Creole
Belizean Creole English
In Belizean Creole, the future tense is indicated by a mandatory invariant pre-verbal particle /(w)a(n)/, /gwein/, or /gouɲ/.
In Gullah the future is indicated by the pre-verbal marker gwine: Uh gwine he'p dem "I'm going to help them".
Hawaiian Creole English
Haitian Creole, based on a French superstrate, interchangeably uses pral or va (from French 3rd person singular va "goes") pre-verbally to indicate the future: Mwen va fini lit. "I go finish"; Li pral vini jodi a "He will come today".
- Östen Dahl, Tense and Aspect Systems, Blackwell, 1985, pp. 105-106.
- Fleischman, Suzanne, The Future in Thought and Language, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982: pp. 18-19, 86-89, and 95-97.
- Usage notes on "shall" in New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1999 Oxford University Press
- Comrie, Bernard, Tense, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985: pp. 21, 47-48.
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- WordReference.com Language Forums
- WordReference.com Language Forums
- Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca, The Evolution of Grammar, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1994.
- Li, Charles N., and Sandra A. Thomson, Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar, 1989.
- Holm, John, An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.
- Sakoda, Kent, and Siegel, Jeff, Pidgin Grammar, Bess Press, 2003, p. 38.
- Turnbull, Wally R., Creole Made Easy, Light Messages, 2000, p. 13.