Mastering Tense in the English Language: The Future
In my earlier posts on mastering tense I discussed the present and past tenses of English verbs. In this post I would like to provide some advice on the four basic future tenses: the future simple, the future continuous, the future perfect and the future perfect continuous.
The least complicated of the future tenses is the future simple, which is formed by using the auxiliary verb ‘will’ followed by the main verb. Examples include ‘I will read that book,’ ‘You will drive to the library,’ ‘She will cook dinner’ and ‘They will watch television.’ For a negative construction ‘not’ should be inserted between the auxiliary and the main verb, as in ‘I will not read that book’ or ‘She will not cook dinner tonight.’ A question is formed by exchanging the positions of the subject and the auxiliary verb: ‘Will you drive to the library?’ and ‘Will they watch television?’ The future simple describes action that will occur in the future and can also be used for prediction, as in ‘It will snow tomorrow’ or ‘He will get the job.’ The verb ‘to think’ is often used along with the simple future, so ‘I think it will snow tomorrow’ is an alternative form of expression, as is ‘She thinks he will get the job.’
The future continuous or future progressive tense is constructed by using the auxiliary verbs ‘will’ and ‘be’ followed by the present participle of the main verb. ‘I will be reading that book tomorrow,’ ‘You will be driving to the library next week’ and ‘They will be watching television every night’ are good examples. The word ‘not’ is inserted between ‘will’ and ‘be’ to form a negative statement, and the subject changes places with the word ‘will’ when a question is intended. ‘She will not be cooking dinner tonight’ and ‘We will not be visiting our aunt next week’ are examples of the first, while ‘Will you be driving to the library?’ and ‘Will they be visiting her?’ are examples of the second. The future continuous is used to describe something that will be happening at a given moment or point in the future – a moment at which the action will have started but not finished – and even when the time is not specifically mentioned, the reader or listener generally understands what time is intended.
The future perfect is formed with the auxiliary verbs ‘will’ and ‘have’ along with the past participle of the main verb. Examples include ‘I will have read that book by then,’ ‘She will have cooked dinner before dark’ and ‘We will have visited our aunt already.’ For a negative construction the word ‘not’ should be inserted between ‘will’ and ‘have,’ as it is in ‘You will not have driven to the library before noon’ and ‘They will not have watched television that early.’ A question is formed by exchanging the positions of the subject and the auxiliary verb ‘will’: ‘Will you have read the book before morning?’ and ‘Will they have finished their research before the deadline?’ The future perfect reports action in the future that occurs before another action in the future; it is therefore ‘perfect’ in that it expresses the past from the perspective of the future.
The future perfect continuous, also referred to as the future perfect progressive, is constructed by using three auxiliary verbs – ‘will,’ ‘have’ and ‘be’ – followed by the present participle of the main verb. ‘I will have been reading the book for hours by then,’ ‘He will have been driving for days to get there’ and ‘We will have been flying all night before we land’ are correct examples. ‘A negative sentence includes the word ‘not’ between ‘will’ and ‘have,’ as in ‘I will not have been reading the book for hours by then’ or ‘They will not have been watching television all evening,’ and a question switches the positions of the subject and the auxiliary verb ‘will,’ as is the case in ‘Will you have been flying all night?’ and ‘Will she have been reading for two days straight?’ The future perfect continuous is similar to the future perfect, but the actions it describes tend to be longer or extended up to a specific point or moment in the future, with the action beginning in the past, present or future, but always ceasing in the future.
Finally, do be aware that the auxiliary verb ‘shall’ is sometimes used instead of ‘will’ in these future constructions, especially with ‘I’ or ‘we’ as the subject. ‘I shall read that book,’ ‘We shall be cooking dinner tonight,’ ‘I shall have finished that book by then’ and ‘We shall have been driving for hours by the time we arrive’ are therefore acceptable alternative constructions.
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