We use the future tense for things ranging from stating vague ambitions (e.g., “I will go to Hawaii one day”) to making concrete plans (e.g., “I will book tickets this evening”). Mastering this tense is therefore essential for expressing yourself clearly. But how does this work? In English, we usually form the future tenses using the words “will” and “shall.” Read on for some grammatical tips.
Simple Future Tense
The simple future tense combines “will” or “shall” with the base form of a verb (i.e., the verb form used in the simple present tense). For example, we could say:
Hawaii will welcome us with open arms!
Here, “will” is combined with “welcome” to make a prediction.
Future Continuous Tense
If you want to discuss an ongoing action in the future, you need the future continuous tense:
I will be lying in the sun this time next week!
As shown, the future continuous combines “will/shall be” and a present participle (i.e., an “-ing” verb).
Future Perfect Tense
The future perfect tense lets us project ourselves forward and reflect on something that hasn’t yet happened. Specifically, the future perfect covers actions that will have been completed in the future:
Once I’ve been to Hawaii, I will have visited every US state.
This tense is formed by combining “will/shall have” with a past participle.
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Future Continuous Perfect
The difference between the future perfect and future perfect continuous tenses is that the future perfect continuous is used for ongoing actions that will have finished by a certain time:
By the end of this journey, we will have been traveling for a month.
As above, this tense usually describes an action that has already begun and specifies a time by which it will have ended. It is formed by combining “will/shall have been” with a present participle.
Will or Shall?
We said at the beginning of this post that “will” and “shall” are both used to express the future tense, but you may have noticed that we use “will” in all of the examples above.
In the old days, “shall” was used with first-person pronouns (e.g. “I shall”) and “will” with second and third-person pronouns (e.g., “you will” or “it will”). Confusingly, these were then reversed to make an emphatic point, which is why the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella says, “You shall go to the ball!”
But in modern American English, there are only two reasons to use “shall”:
To sound formal (e.g., a contract) or old-fashioned (e.g., a historical novel)
To ask a question in the first person (e.g., Shall I book the tickets tonight?)
In all other cases, “will” is now standard with all pronoun types.
Other Ways of Discussing the Future
As well as using “will” or “shall,” English offers a couple of other ways to discuss the future:
Use “going to” with an infinitive verb (e.g., The volcano is going to explode)
Combine the present tense with a future time (e.g., It is happening tomorrow)
You can use these as alternatives to the future tense forms set out above.