English Grammar Guide

Simple Future Forms

Depending on what we want to say, there are several ways of speaking about the future in English.

The (simple) future can be referred to in the following ways:

Although all of these forms refer to the future, they have slightly different uses.

Future Simple, using 'Will'

This future form uses 'will' and a verb infinitive (without 'to'). Non-native speakers often make the mistake of using this form to describe all non-continuous future actions. In fact, the future with 'will' should be used for the following purposes:

  • To make a promise:   

    • 'I will always love you.'

    • 'Yes, of course I will drive carefully!'

  • To make a prediction (often with "I think..."):

    • 'I think Manchester will win the Champion's League Cup this year.'

  • To talk about future facts:  

    • 'There will be an election on 1st April 2011.'

  • When you make a decision at the time of speaking:

    • 'I don't have any money.' - 'No problem, I'll pay.'

The Future using 'Be going to...'

This future form uses 'be going to' and a verb infinitive (without 'to'). It is used for the following purposes:

  • To talk about your general intentions or plans:

    • 'I'm going to visit my mother tomorrow.'

  • To make strong predictions, based on evidence:

    • 'Look at those clouds...it is going to rain soon.'

The future, using the Present Continuous

It is possible to use the Present Continuous tense, plus a future time reference, to talk about the future. Although English speakers often use the present continuous to refer to intentions or general plans, it should only be used when the plans (with another person) or arrangements have been confirmed (for example, you have a ticket for a flight..). It is used for the following purposes:

  • To talk about fixed or confirmed arrangements:

    • 'I'm visiting my Doctor at 9.30 tomorrow morning.'       (This has been confirmed: I have an appointment)

    • 'I'm flying to England next week.'                       (This has been confirmed: I have a ticket)

When using the present continuous to speak about the future, we must use a future time reference (specified or implied). Without a future time reference, the meaning is different. Consider these two examples:

  • I'm having lunch with Roberto tomorrow.    (It is obvious that this refers to the future)

  • I'm having lunch with Roberto.              (This sentence refers to the present and suggests you are eating now)

The future using Present Simple

It is possible to use the Present Simple tense and a time reference to talk about timetabled or scheduled future events, such as train or aircraft departures / arrivals. It should not be used for other types of future events.

  • My flight leaves at 21.30 from Terminal 2

  • The train arrives in Berlin at 11.25am.

The immediate future with 'Be about to...'

We can talk about actions that will start shortly after the time of speaking by using a form of 'be about to', often introduced with the word 'just'. After 'be about to...' we use the verb infinitive (without to). This form explains that the action will start almost immediately.

  • Sorry, I'm just about to leave my office. Can you call me on my mobile?

  • No, the children can't have another drink. They are just about to go to bed.

  • Hurry! The train is about to leave.