Using the Future Tense in Conversation
And today we’re going to be talking a little bit about grammar, about how to use the Future tense in conversation.
Now many of you or advanced ESL students may already know this or you may still be surprised to hear that there is a slight difference in how we can express things in the future, especially in conversation.
So, what matters when we talking about the Future tense is whether the activity we’re talking about is something planned or something unplanned.
What do I mean by that?
By planned activity in the Future I mean something like “traveling abroad”. If you’re going to be flying abroad you will need to book your ticket, pack you suitcases and do a number of things to plan for that event.
So that’s an example “traveling” of something that you need to plan in advance and what you going to do it in the future.
Another example of something planned in the future is an appointment to see the doctor. You’re need to call him and make this appointment in order to going to see him in the future.
This is an example of “Planned”. I’ll talk about “Unplanned” in a few moments.
Let’s start now with the two different ways in which you can talk about planned activities in the future.
One is by using the expression “going to”.
To simply say: I’m going to + the verb.
In this case: I’m going to visit John on Saturday.
Or: I’m going to meet Mary at five o’clock.
This is a way to indicate that the action will happen a little bit later in the future. That later could be five minutes later, five hours later, five days later or five years later. It really doesn’t matter in English. As long as it is in the future and the future means anytime after this present moment.
The second way to speak about planned activities in the future is by using the Present Continuous.
Now I know, you’re going to wonder: why the Present Continuous. Till now you’ve probably learned that the Present Continuous (for example say: I’m visiting) indicates something that’s happening now or something that’s temporal. However you can also use the Present Continuous to talk about the future as long as you at some period of time in the future to indicate exactly when that activity will happen.
Let me give you an example.
If we use the same example of “visiting John” with Present Continuous we must simply say:
I’m visiting John on Sunday.
If I say “I’m visiting John” without saying “Sunday” then you simply are talking about right now, you’re talking about the present. But if I say “Sunday” and today is Friday and Sunday is that it in the future. Then you know that I’m talking about the future.
And this is the second way that I can talk about the planned activity in the future.
Again to review you could say:
I’m going to visit my mother on Friday.
I’m visiting my mother on Friday.
I’m going to play tennis on Thursday.
I’m playing tennis on Thursday.
Again, these all activities that we have planned in advance.
Let’s go now to the second side, which is for the unplanned activities.
What do I mean by “unplanned activity”?
It means something that you decide at this moment simultaneously or because you’ve learned some information right now to do something in the future.
Suppose, I’m speaking to Mary on the phone. And we’re talking. And then suddenly my boss enters the room. He tells me that he needs to speak urgently.
So I tell Mary:
– Marry I’ll call you back, I need to go and speak to my boss.
I’ll call you back – I’ll is a contraction of I will. And indicates an activity in the future.
But in this case I made that decision to call Mary back at this very moment. It was not that I have planned in advance. It was something that happened at this very moment. And because of that I decided to do it.
In that case when we’re speaking we use “will”
Suppose, that we’re speaking we usually speak a little more informally.
We use contractions: I’ll, we’ll
I’ll call you back.
We’ll see you later.
It’s possible that you could use both ways in one sentence.
If someone ask you what you going to do on the weekend. There may be something that you planned to do and you know for sure. And there may be other things, that you’re not sure about, which may happen. In the first case things are certain, in the second uncertain.
So, you could say:
– Well, what I’m doing this weekend. I’m going to visit my mother(planned). I’m going to have lunch with her(planned). And then may be I’ll go to movie. Or may be I’ll go home instead. (unplanned)
So here you see in the same example how we can move from something planned to something unplanned even in the same sentence.
Again, this all is true, when we’re talking about conversational English. Usually when we’re talking about business English or about something that in writing it’s a little more formal. And therefore we don’t find “going to” and Present Continuous use for the future even when activities are planned.
If ABC company announces that it’s going to have a new branch, or new factories, going to open a new factory in Japan.
In newspapers we usually read: “ABC company will open a new factory in Japan in March”.
Not “is going to open” but “will open”.
Simply because this is more formal, this is more businesslike.
And so we tend use will, when it’s more businesslike language and more formal.