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Concourse 2

Three more future forms (+ 1)

three future forms

Before we begin

If you haven't followed the guide to four future forms yet (or not for some time) you are advised to look at it before you read on (new tab).

This guide explains three tenses often taught to higher-level learners which are slightly less common ways to talk about particular aspects of the future.  If you are unsure about the distinction between aspect and tense, there's a guide on this site, linked below in the list of related guides
The other distinction to make sure you are clear about is the difference between stative and dynamic uses of verbs.  If you are unsure, there's a guide on this site also linked below
This guide also includes an explanation of a fourth common way to talk about the future which is rarely taught but easy to teach and learn:
We are about to begin.


The future progressive

There are three uses:

  1. the future as 'a matter of course' 1
    The sentence
        He'll be working when you come
    implies that the action will be happening in the natural course of things and your arrival will interrupt it.  The form doesn't always denote a progressive action but it usually does.  The best way to explain this is probably with the use of a time line such as
    future progressive time line
  2. the future as 'a matter of course' 2
    The second example
        I'll be starting work at 7
    does not imply a progressive action but the implication is that the action will be happening in the course of things and will mean that you are unavailable for other appointments.  It can also imply that this is a new arrangement rather than a one-off event so in that respect, it is progressive and similar to the first example.
  3. tact and diplomacy
    the form is often used to sound tentative and polite.  Compare:
    Will you come at 6? Will you be coming at 6?
    When will she install the new software? When will she be installing the new software?
    The left-hand examples can sound peremptory and even rude but the use of the progressive form softens the nature of the question and makes it sound much more polite.
    This is somewhat subtle so you'll need to set the context and role relationships clearly if you are teaching the use.  It does, however, follow a general rule that more complex forms often imply more distance or politeness.


The future perfect

Task 2: Make a note of what you understand the three different but closely connected uses of this tense are.  Click here when you have done that.

He'll have finished the book by the time I want it
He'll have repaired the car and then we can use it
I'll have been at the hotel for a day or two before I can call you


The future perfect progressive

Bear in mind that this form can only be used with verbs used in dynamic senses so is not normally available for verbs such as be, have, think, live etc. except where those verbs have dynamic senses.  See the guide to stative and dynamic verb uses, linked below, for more.

Task 3: Again, can you work out what the three uses are (they are closely connected to the uses of the future perfect simple)?  Click here when you have an answer.

I will have been working for over two hours before you get here
He'll have been travelling for ten hours and will be tired
We'll have been coming to this hotel for 15 years soon

The problem

There is one very obvious difficulty with the two perfect aspect future tenses: the verb forms do not match the time to which they refer.  If we take, for example:
    I will have finished it by the time you need it
we can see that the first verb phrase, will have finished, is clearly a future form of some sort but the second verb phrase is simply need and that looks like a present form.  It is logical to assume that it should be will need and that is what many learners are tempted to say.  Many languages do signal the time in this way and in that sense are more logically and intuitively constructed.
This happens to be the way that tense forms work in dependent clauses in English and is a source of a great deal of error.
There is a guide on the site to tenses in dependent clauses that you can access here (new tab).

time line

time lines

As with many tense forms, the simplest way to present and help people to understand is via the use of clear time lines.  Here are some examples for future perfect forms.

time line example

time line example


be about to

This is the form used for imminent or nearly imminent futures.  Unlike many forms, it carries no speaker perceptions other than

  1. it is going to happen very soon (The bomb's about to go off)
  2. it is almost certain to occur (I'm about to leave, I'm afraid, so I can't talk now)

The form carries no implications of, e.g., speaker intention (see a.) and does not denote futures based on present evidence (see b.).  The form is very simple to teach and learn and more common than you may think.  (Other forms such as be bound to, be certain to, be liable to, be likely to etc. do carry modal meanings expressing the speaker's point of view (certainty, characteristic behaviour, likelihood etc.)

Related guides
four future forms which considers the simpler future tense forms
the tenses map for the clickable diagram of all English tenses
the tenses index for the index of all tense-related guides
aspect and tense to disentangle the concepts
stative vs. dynamic to disentangle two more concepts
using time lines for some more ideas
speaking about the future for a more technical guide to the area
time, tense and aspect for a guide to all the tense areas of English