Future tense explained

For other uses see Future tense (disambiguation).

In grammar, the future tense is a verb form that marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future (in an absolute tense system), or to happen subsequent to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future (in a relative tense system).

Expressions of future tense

Languages can employ various strategies to convey future tense meaning. The concept of the future, necessarily uncertain and at varying distances ahead means that the speaker may express the future in terms of probability, intent The auxiliary+verb sequence can eventually become grammaticalized into a single word form, leading to reanalysis as a simple future tense. This is in fact the origin of the future tense in Western Romance languages like Italian (see below).

In some languages, there is no special morphological or syntactic indication of future tense, and future meaning is supplied by the context, for example by the use of temporal adverbs like "later", "next year", etc. Such adverbs (in particular words meaning "tomorrow" and "then") can also develop into grammaticalized future tense markers.

A given language can exhibit more than one strategy for expressing future tense. In addition, the verb forms used for the future tense can also be used to express other types of meaning. For example, the auxiliary werden "become" is used for both the future tense and the passive voice in German.

Germanic Languages

In Germanic languages, including English, the usual expression of the future is using the present tense, with the futurity expressed using words that imply future action ("'I go' or 'I am going' to Berlin tomorrow."). There is no simple future tense as such.

However, the languages of the Germanic family can also express the future by employing an auxiliary construction that combines certain present tense verbs with the simple infinitive (stem) of the verb which represents the true action of the sentence. These auxiliary forms vary between the languages.

Other, generally more informal, expressions of futurity use an auxiliary with the compound infinitive of the main verb.


The most common auxiliary verbs used to express futurity are:

A dialectical form in Northern England is:

In all dialects of spoken English "shall" and "will" are commonly elided into ll ("I'll go" could be either "I will go" or "I shall go") so that the differences between the two have been worn down.

English also uses can, may and must in a similar way.

To wit:

To express futurity in the negative, a negative adverb - such as "not" or "never" is inserted after the auxiliary verb, as in all other auxiliary constructions.

In all of these, action within a future range of time is contemplated. However, in all cases, the sentences are actually voiced in the present tense, since there is no proper future tense in English. It is the implication of futurity that makes these present tense auxiliary constructions amount to a compound future quasi-tense.

An additional form of expressing the future is "I am going to...".

This reality, that expression of futurity in English is a function of the present tense, is born out by the ability to negate the implication of futurity without making any change to the auxiliary construction. When a verbal construction that suggests futurity (such as "I shall go") is subsequently followed by information that establishes a condition or presupposition, or the active verb stem itself contradicts a future indicative application of the construction, then any sense of future tense is negated - especially when the auxiliary will is used within its literal meaning, which is to voluntarily 'will' an action. For example:

The second 'will', in B's response, is not only expressing volition here but is being used in contradistinction to the usual first person 'shall' in order to achieve emphasis. Similarly, in the case of the second and third persons, 'will' operates with 'shall' in reverse.

For example: A: Will he be at the café at six o'clock? B: He will be there. [Normal affirmation]HOWEVER, B: He shall be there. [Stresses that this is not the usual pattern that was previously established or to be expected (Last time he was late or did not show up)]

Additional auxiliary constructions used to express futurity are labelled as follows:

Future Continuous: Auxiliary + Verb Stem + Present Participle

Future Perfect: Auxiliary + Verb Stem + Past Participle

Future Perfect Habitual (or Future Perfect Continuous): Auxiliary + Verb Stem + Past Participle + Present Participle


German uses only one auxiliary for the future:

There is no compound infinitive in German so the main verb after werden is a simple infinitive. The infinitive main verb is placed at the end of the sentence, however long it may be.

Icelandic and Old Norse

Icelandic derives from Old Norse and indeed is scarcely changed from it in the written form. Icelandic uses the auxiliaries:

It is believed that in Old Norse munu expressed the pure future, skulu expressed obligation or determination as it still does, and a third auxiliary, vilja ("will"), expressed will or intent.

A common auxiliary expression of the future, which takes the compound infinitive, is:

(So "Ég ætla að koma"; I will come)


Current standard Norwegian auxiliaries are:

An occasional usage is:

Latin and Romance

The future tense forms in Latin varied by conjugation. Here is a sample of the future tense for the first conjugation verb 'amare', 'to love'.

amaboI will (shall) love
amabisyou (singular) will love
amabithe, she, it will love
amabimuswe will (shall) love
amabitisyou (plural) will love
amabuntthey will love

See Latin conjugation for further details. Sound changes in Vulgar Latin made future forms difficult to distinguish from other verb forms (e.g. amabit "he will love" vs. amavit "he loved"), and the Latin simple future forms were gradually replaced by periphrastic structures involving the infinitive and an auxiliary verb, such as debere, venire, velle, and especially habere. All of the modern Romance languages have grammaticalized one of these periphrastic constructions for expressing the future tense; none of them has preserved the original Latin future.

Future tense with habere

While Classical Latin used a set of suffixes to the main verb for the future tense, later Vulgate Latin adopted the use of habere (to have) with the infinitive, as for example:

petant aut petant venire habet[1] ("whether they ask or do not ask, it will come")

From this construction, the major Western Romance languages have simple future tense forms that derive from the infinitive followed by a conjugated form of the verb "to have" (Latin habere). As the auxiliary verb lost its modal force (from a verb expressing obligation, desire, or intention, to a simple marker of tense), it also lost syntactic autonomy (becoming an enclitic) and phonological substance (e.g. Latin 1st sing. habeo > ayyo > Old French ai, Modern French).Thus the sequence of Latin verbs amare habeo ("I have to love") gave rise to French aimerai, Spanish amaré, etc. "I will love".[2]

Phonetic changes also affected the infinitive in the evolution of this form, so that in the modern languages the future stem is not always identical to the infinitive. Consider the following Spanish examples:

See the grammar articles for the individual languages for more details about verb conjugation.


Romanian, although a Romance language, patterns like Balkan languages such as Greek and Serbian and Croatian in that it uses reflexes of the verb (to want):

Romanian also forms a future tense from the subjunctive, with a preceding particle, o, also derived from vrea:

Celtic languages

Scottish Gaelic

In Gaelic, the future tense is formed in regular verbs by adding aidh or idh to the end of the root form of the verb (idh is used if the final vowel in the root is i).

Inserting cha before the root forms the negative. The initial consonant of the root is lenited where possible, except for d, t or s which in certain cases is not lenited. Chan is substituted if the root begins with a vowel or an f followed by a vowel, which is also lenited.

In the interrogative, an is placed before the root of the verb. If the root begins with b, f, m, or p, am is used instead.

As in English, some forms are irregular - mostly common verbs. For example, the root for the word "to see" is faic, but the positive future tense form "will see" is chì.

The copula is bidh (will be), cha bhi (will not be), am bi (interrogative), and nach bi (negative interrogative).

The linking verb (that will be) is gum bi (positive) or nach bi (negative).


In Irish, the future tense is formed two ways in regular verbs, depending on verb class. Class I verbs add faidh or fidh to the end of the root form of the verb (fidh is used if the final vowel in the root is e or i).

Class II verbs add óidh or eoidh to the end of the root form of the verb (eoidh is used if the final vowel in the root is e, i, or í).

Both class I and class II verbs have a special form for the 1st person plural:

The negative is formed by adding . The initial consonant of the root is lenited.

In the interrogative, an is placed before the root of the verb, which causes eclipsis.

Of the ten listed irregular verbs in Irish, six show irregular future forms:

One additional irregular verb has an alternate future form:

The future of verb (be) is beidh (1pl. beimid). The copula is ("is") is is (will be), (will not be), an (interrogative), and nach (negative interrogative).

The linking verb (that will be) is gum bi (positive) or nach bi (negative).


Most verbal functions are expressed using constructions with bod (to be). The future may be expressed in the same way using the future tense of bod.

Fe fydda i yn... (I will...)
Fe fyddi di yn... (thou wilt...)
Fe fydd e yn... (he will...) etc

(in which "fe" serves as the affirmative marker, the pronoun subject following the verb).

More commonly Welsh uses a construction with "Mynd" (to go)

Futurity can also be expressed by using words that imply future action

Dwi'n mynd yna heddiw: I am going there today.

The simple future, which uses verb suffixes conjugated with the verb, is used to express determination of action or to emphasise confidence in outcome. As in the future of bod, the affirmative marker is fe.

Semitic languages

Hebrew (Biblical)

Hebrew has an entirely different tense system from those understood in the Indo-European language family. There is no future tense as such. Instead, verbs express completed action or uncompleted action. The future is an uncompleted action, though the expression for, for example, "David will give thanks to God" can also mean "David was giving thanks to God". The interpretation depends on the context.

See also

External links

Notes and References

  1. St Augustine of Hippo
  2. Book: Zink, Gaston. Morphologie du français médiéval. PUF. Paris. 1997. 4th edition. 2-13-046470-X.