We use the simple future tense for actions that will happen in the future. How we use it depends on how we view the events are going to happen. The followings show the different tenses used to express the completion of an activity in the future:
The police will conclude their investigation of the computer fraud next week. (simple future)
The police conclude their investigation of the computer fraud next week. (simple present)
The police are concluding their investigation of the computer fraud next week.(present continuous)
The police will be concluding their investigation of the computer fraud next week. (future continuous)
There are ways we can use to express the future in English:
2. Be going to
3. Be to
4. Be about to
5. Simple Present
6. Present continuous
We use will to:
- say something that we are certain will occur in the future.
Example: A meeting will be held next Monday at 2 p.m.
- say something that we are not so certain will happen.
Example: I think he will phone me later.
- make a prediction.
Example: The rain will stop soon.
- state a fact.
Example: Oil will float on water.
- express willingness to do something in the future.
Example: I will help you clear the rat-infested storeroom in a moment.
- make a sudden decision at the moment of speaking.
Example: There's a noise outside. I will just go and check.
- give a command.
Example: You will report to me at eight o'clock tomorrow.
- give an invitation, make an order or a threat.
Example: They will invite Professor Dunce to speak at the scientific conference.
Example: I will have a double brandy.
Example: Give me your wallet or I will slit your throat with this.
- ask questions or make a suggestion or promise.
Example: Will you phone your mother-in-law to apologize, please?
Example: Shall we sneak a couple of bottles of brandy through Customs?
Example: I will try not to be late again.
2. Be going to
Be going to is used to refer to future actions as follow:
- Intention or decision already made to do or not to do something.
Example: We are going to move to a new neighbourhood next month.
- Plans or arrangements for the near future that are made prior to the time of speaking
Example: We are going to visit the zoo on Sunday.
- Prediction of an outcome based on current situation.
Example: Look at the overcast sky. It is going to rain hard.
Be going to and will
- When be going to and will are used to make predictions about the future, they mean the same.
Example: He thinks his son's team will win the match.
Example: He thinks his son's team is going to win the match.
- Be going to and will are used to indicate future situations or actions, and they often convey the same meaning.
Example: My son is going to be ten next month. / My son will be ten next month.
Example: We are going to leave as soon as he arrives. / We will leave as soon as he arrives.
Example: We are going to the shop when it stops raining. / We will go to the shop when it stops raining.
- When the speaker is absolutely sure about something, he can use will or be going to.
Example: I will be at the meeting tomorrow. / I am going to be at the meeting tomorrow. (When absolute sureness is not present, probably, might, could, or similar words may be used.
Example: I will probably be at the meeting tomorrow. / I am probably going to be at the meeting tomorrow.)
- Sometimes be going to and will express different meanings.
We use be going to to indicate a plan made before the time of speaking while will expresses a decision made at the time of speaking.
Example: We are going to visit Jill in the hospital tomorrow. (When we came to know that Jill was admitted to the hospital, we arranged to visit her the next day (tomorrow) – a prior plan.)
Example: It is getting late. We will leave now. (The speaker decides to leave the moment he realizes it is getting late – a sudden decision.)
- When a decision or plan is made for the distant future, will is usually used.
Example: She will get married in two years.
Going to is usually used when a plan is made for the near future.
Example: We are going to visit them again early next month.
- We use be going to when there is an intention to do something and will for additional information.
Example: It's their twentieth wedding anniversary. They are going to have a celebratory party. (NOT: They will have a celebratory party.) They will invite about a dozen close friends. The friends will include two politicians.
3. Be to
Be to (is/are + infinitive) refers to an action that is to take place in the future. It is used for instructions, obligation and something that is arranged. However, other forms of usage are possible.
Example: You are not to answer any question from any one of the reporters. (instruction)
Example: You are to hand this packet over to him before noon. (obligation)
Example: The Prime Minister is to meet his successor tomorrow. (arrangement)
Example: The museum is to be closed while it is being renovated. (information)
Example: The General Manager is to present the report to the board on Monday. (duty)
4. Be about to (+ infinitive)
We use be about to for an action or event that will happen very soon.
Example: Everyone sits down when the film is about to start.
Example: I have never drunk alcohol in my life and I am not about to start now.
Example: We walked quickly home when it was about to rain.
Example: The audience fell silent when the President was about to appear.
Example: When a plane is moved to the end of a runway, it usually means it is about to take off.
When be about to is used with just, it emphasizes that something is about to happen when it is interrupted by something else.
Example: I was just about to eat my dinner when the phone rang.
5. Simple present tense
We use simple present tense for the future when we refer to something that has been scheduled or arranged to happen at a particular time such as a timetable.
Example: The first flight to Rome leaves at 6 a.m.
Example: The train for Birmingham departs from platform 3.
Example: The special sales offer closes August 31.
Example: The new airport opens on Christmas Eve.
Example: The public exhibition of a collection of his paintings ends in a week.
The simple present tense and the present continuous tense
We can use the simple present and the present continuous tenses for the future.
They have a drinking session next Sunday. (= the drinking session occurs every Sunday.)
They are having a drinking session next Sunday. (= perhaps, not every Sunday.)
6. Present continuous tense
The present continuous tense is used for future arrangements.
Example: I am having dinner with him at seven o'clock.
Example: She is flying to London tomorrow morning.
Example: John is leaving the company next week after 25 years' service.
Example: We are visiting the Niagara Falls in three weeks.
Example: My brother is writing another book next month.
Present continuous and 'be going to'
Present continuous and be going to can have same meaning.
a) I am going to watch my favourite TV programme this evening.
b) I am watching my favourite TV programme this evening.
c) He is going to attend a seminar tomorrow.
d) He is attending a seminar tomorrow.
Sentences (a) and (b); (c) and (d) have same meaning. The present continuous tense and be going to describe actions that are planned or arranged for the future prior to the time of speaking. We do not use will here.
It is not incorrect to construct a sentence with 'be going to' with the verb 'go'. For example: They are going to go fishing this weekend. However the present continuous tense is more commonly used: They are going fishing this weekend.
Will / Shall
Will and shall are auxiliary verbs used mainly in the future tense.
Example: I shall arrive before noon. / They will arrive before noon.
Shall has always been used in the first-person singular (I) and plural (we) but will is becoming more common.
Example: I shall be away tomorrow. / We shall be away tomorrow.
- We use will to ask a favour of somebody.
Example: Will you look after my things for a while, please?
- We use won't (will not) to show unwillingness or refusal to do something.
Example: I have asked the noisy children to keep quiet, but they won't listen.
- We use shall when we:
Ask a first-person question.
Example: Shall I open the window?
make a suggestion.
Example: Shall we go together in one car?
make an offer.
Example: Shall I give you a lift to the airport?
ask for instructions.
Example: Shall I make all these payments by the end of the month?
Will and shall are also used to make predictions in the simple future tense.
Example: I think the weather will get colder around the middle of this month.
Example: I shall be judged only by God.