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The Future Simple Tense in English: Let’s Time-Travel

Running off of my previously published posts where I spoke at length about the simple present tense and past tense, it’s finally time to travel into the future. Let’s take a look at the future simple tense in English.

You’ll read many interesting things here today.
There’s going to be a lot of talk about the future.
We’re most likely going to have a ton of fun!
For now, I’ll do all the talking, so sit back, relax, and pay attention.

Notice how all of the sentences above refer to events in the future. However, that’s only one part of the equation. What I want you to focus on the most is the usage of “will” and “be going to”, as these two are actually the key to understanding the future simple tense.

P.S. There’s nothing hard about this, so don’t worry just yet.

First Off, When Do We Use the Future Simple Tense?

The answer to this question is pretty obvious: we use the future simple tense to talk about future events. However, there’s one question here that I always like to ask my students, as it really gets them thinking about the future tense.

When exactly does the future “occur”?

Is it just the moments following the sentence in the future simple, or does it perhaps have to be a much longer period of time for us to refer to it as “the future”?

Here are some examples of just what I mean:

Oh, no! I dropped my pen!
Don’t worry, I’ll help you! (moments or seconds after)
It looks like it’s going to rain. (hours after)
I’m going to the movies on Saturday night. (days after)

All of these sentences refer to future events, even though in some, the future is very near while in others, it’s still a bit far away. In essence, the exact moment of when an action occurs in the future doesn’t matter, as long as it happens in a moment that we still have to live to see.

Long story short: the future is the future, regardless of whether it’s just one second or one century ahead of us.

We’re going to address the more specific use cases of the future simple tense later in this article.
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How Do We Form the Future Simple Tense?

There are two ways to form a sentence in the future simple tense, either with the usage of “will” or the various forms of “be going to” before the main verb.

The best thing about it: there are no suffixes to be added or irregular verb forms to be used. It’s all very simple. You just add the base form of the main verb after either “will” or “be going to”.

We can also use the verb “shall” before the main verb in the future simple tense, but it’s slightly less prevalent in everyday use than “will” and “be going to”. Here are some examples:

Affirmative Sentences:
I will have some coffee, please.
We are going to see a movie.

Negative Sentences:
I will not get an A+ on this test.
She is going to buy that!

Interrogative Sentences (Questions):
Will you go out on a date with me?
Are you going to pick the phone up?

Note: We can also use the shortened verb forms in all of the sentences above, except for the questions.
I’ll have some coffee, please.
We’re going to see a movie.
I won’t get an A+ on this test.
She’s going to buy that!

So, What Is the Difference Between “Will” and “Be Going to”?

This is where we’re going to address the specific use cases of the future simple tense, as it relates to “will” and “be going to”. Now, most English learners might think it’s okay to use these two interchangeably but they actually share quite a lot of differences if we dig deeper.

So, let’s take a look at how exactly they’re different.
We use “will” in the future simple tense to talk about:

Rapid decisions or actions happening in an instant
Oh, I’m so hungry! I’ll get two hamburgers.
If you give me a hug, I’ll give you my number.

Will you marry me?
That looks pretty hard. I’ll help you with it.

Promises or threats
If you don’t apologize right now, I’ll tell mom you did this!
You can tell me. I swear I won’t tell a single soul.

We’ve tried everything. She just won’t do it!
Trust me. Do this and he won’t stand a chance!

You will do exactly as I say, alright?!
Alright, guys. You will do this test for 40 minutes.

Let us now take a look at the specific use cases of “be going to” in the future simple tense. We can use it to talk about:

I’m going to the movies with my friends later today.

My family’s going to Paris next month.
Obvious outcomes (based on current evidence, signs or facts)
Pfff… they’re already down 20 points. They’re going to lose!
My God, it’s so hot in here! I think I’m going to pass out!

Note: Both “will” and “going to” can be used to make predictions for the future, as well. However, “be going to” has more certainty in it. In other words, you should only use “will” if you’re making a prediction based on a personal hunch or feeling and use “be going to” if there are actual facts in the present that support your prediction.

I think I’ll stay home. It’ll probably rain tomorrow.I’ve just watched the weather forecast. It’s going to rain tomorrow.

Pro Tip: If your next fortune cookie doesn’t have some form of “be going to” on the paper inside, there’s probably a very low possibility that anything will happen.

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Until next time, happy learning! Hopefully, we’ll talk soon!
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Jasmin Alić is an award-winning EFL/ESL teacher and writing aficionado from Bosnia and Herzegovina with years of experience in multicultural learning environments.

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