English has no future (tense)

“The English language has no future tense, because it has neither future tense word forms in the form in which they are in other languages, nor other grammatical forms that could denote only the future tense.”

Martin Endley, PhD in Linguistics, is the author of Linguistic Perspectives on English Grammar: A Guide for EFL Teachers.

But wait. And then what is Future Tense, which is taught already at the Elementary level?

In fact, everything is more complicated than it seems at first glance. We are talking today about the future tense in English. Go.

Such a different future

The vast majority of people, including native speakers, believe that the sentences “I will do that” and “I’m going to do that” are definitely considered future tense.

They really describe events that will happen in the future, so it is foolish to think otherwise.

But already here, for a simple student who teaches English as a second, difficulties begin. Because the future tense is not only Future Simple. It can also be expressed through the present.

It looks like an intention to accomplish something.

– I’m going to do my homework. – I’m going to do my homework.

The main verb here is “going” – and it’s in the present tense. But the phrase “going to” means the intention to do something in the future. It is ambiguous, because the specific time is not indicated here.

– I’m going to do my homework now. – I’m going to do my homework now.

– I’m going to do my homework tomorrow. – I’m going to do my homework tomorrow.

The second option is a completely legal grammatical move. Although the sentence remains in Present Continuous, it speaks unambiguously about the future.

In some cases, the future can also be expressed through Present Simple.

– When will you visit the park next time?

– I visit the park on Sundays.

– When will you go to the park next time?

– I go to the park on Sundays.

Formally, there is no emphasis on time. But based on the context, the interviewee said that he often visited the park on Sundays in the past and is going to do so in the future. That is, next Sunday he will most likely go there again.

But all of these options have one thing in common. The main verb does not change in any way. You can add “will” or “going to” to it, designate the time with a separate word “tomorrow” or provide information through context. But the main verb will be in the same form as in the present tense.

Another interesting observation: the future in English is measured by firmness of intentions.

– I will do my homework tomorrow. – I will do my homework tomorrow.

There is no absolute certainty, just a guess. It can be passed like this:

– I suppose I will do my homework tomorrow. – I think I’ll do my homework tomorrow.

Now further.

– I may do my homework tomorrow. “I can probably do my homework tomorrow.

Or I can’t. This is an assumption that is not very certain. This is just one of the possibilities that can happen.

And the last one:

– I’m going to do my homework tomorrow. – I’m going to do my homework tomorrow.

There is clear intent and certainty about tomorrow’s actions. The nuances are quite subtle, but they really mean a lot in the grammar of the language.

There are only two tense verb forms in English

Let’s remember the forms of English verbs. There are three of them.

  • First form: present tense verb. As an infinitive, but without the to particle. Work, dance, read, write, see and so on.

  • Second form: past tense verb. They are divided here into two types: correct and incorrect. The correct ones are formed using the ending -ed (worked, danced), and the wrong ones are randomly formed, so you need to learn the table (wrote, saw).

  • Third form: past participle. It is necessary to create proposals in the group of times of Perfect In the same way, they are divided into correct ones with the same ending -ed (worked, danced) and incorrect ones (written, seen).

Where is the word form of the future tense? But she is not.

In French, for example, verbs have word forms that directly denote the future tense.

– Je verrai la peinture – I will see a picture.

– Je vois la peinture – I see a picture.

The image of the verb directly shows the future tense. The word “verrai” can only be translated as “I will see” in the future tense and nothing else.

In English, there is only the word form of the past tense and participles. To express the future tense, you need to use the word “will”. But it’s also interesting with him.

Will is a modal verb with broad powers

Modal verbs in English are not used on their own and do not mean any action or state. Together with the main verb, they form the so-called compound modal predicate.

List of modal verbs:

Can, may, must, ought to, have to, be to, need, should, would, dare, use to.

The first three are most often used, but not the essence. The thing is, will is also modal.

One of the simplest proofs of this is that the word “will” does not inflect with third-person pronouns. You can’t say “He wills” – just “He will”.

Some English-speaking linguists even say that Future Simple would be more correctly called Present Tense Modal. After all, we do not formally create a separate word form, but use a compound modal predicate.

In the textbook “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language” there is an interesting table that reflects the creation of all 16 combinations of tense forms of compound verbs:

“Will” here acts as a modal verb. Instead of it, you can substitute “may” or “should” – the meaning of the sentence will change slightly, but the form is not.

In the form of a noun, the word “will” is translated as “will”, “desire”, “intention”.

And the sentence “I will do my homework tomorrow” can be expanded to “I have a will to do my homework tomorrow”.

So why is there no future tense in English?

The reason is the development of the Proto-Indo-European language. Around 2500 BC, the proto-language began to disintegrate into separate language groups, the Germanic languages ​​did not corny adopted the word forms of the future language into their grammar.

For example, the Romance, Celtic and Slavic languages ​​use word forms that shape the future tense.

Bruidhinnidh mi – I will say (Gaelic)

Narrabo tibi – Tell you (Latin)

Je dirai – I will say (French)

“I will say” in Russian is also a word form of the future tense. And in the Ukrainian language, for example, there are even word forms of the future imperfect tense “I Kazatimu” (I will speak).

In the Germanic languages, such word forms were lost at the dawn of the development of languages. Therefore, formally, we can assume that in all languages ​​of the Germanic group there is no future tense, because modal verbs are used to designate it. But the absence of special future tense word forms for verbs does not in any way reduce the toolkit for its grammatical transmission.

We hope that understanding how the future tense actually works in English will help you better understand the grammar of the language. And if you liked this format of presenting information and want more, sign up for a free trial lesson with a teacher and learn English with passion and pleasure.

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