Step by step English grammar! Verbs ~ Future tense

Simple grammar - Verbs in the future tense


There are 2 common ways to talk about future action.


I'll play tennis tomorrow.
*I’ll is a contraction of ‘I will.’ Contractions are more common in spoken English.
I'm playing tennis tomorrow.

They are saying the same thing, but there is a small nuance that determines if we use I will or I am doing in natural English.

           Click the word to check pronunciation.
nuance noun a very slight difference that is hard to notice.

Let me explain this small difference with 2 more examples. 

① Andrew: Henry is struggling with his current assignment. 
Brad: I have some free time so I'll help him after lunch.

② Kevin: I'm helping Henry move next Saturday. He asked a few of us at work yesterday and I said yes.

Example 1 uses I'll help and example 2 uses I'm helping
Why?

There is a small difference between these 2 examples that is hard to see. Can you find it?


Hint: When did the person in the first example decide to help Henry? When did the person in the second example decide to help Henry?

① In the first example Brad just found out about Henry's trouble, then he decided to help Henry as he was speaking

 In the second example, Henry asked Kevin yesterday if he could help him move, and Kevin said ‘yes.’ Kevin has already decided to help, this is a planned activity.



If a future action has just been decided at the time of speaking we use “I will.

It's starting to rain. I'll go upstairs and shut the windows in our bedroom. (This action was decided at the time of speaking.)

I have some free time so I'll help him after lunch. (Brad just found out about Henry's trouble, he decided to help Henry as he was speaking.) 

If a future action has already been decided or planned we use “I am doing.

I'm having a barbeque party next weekend, I hope it doesn't rain. (The decision to have a party was made before the time of speaking.)

I'm helping Henry move next Saturday. (Henry asked Kevin yesterday if he could help him move, and Kevin said ‘yes.’ This is a planned activity.)

I'm helping Henry move next Saturday.
Lisa is strong so she will carry the heavy boxes!

More explanations with examples.

① Will


Will is an easy way to make the future tense of a verb, so it's common among many of the ESL students that I have taught. Just put the word will in front of your verb and now you're talking about the future. As we saw above will is not always the best choice to talk about the future so be careful. Below are some natural ways we use will.

*In conversation the contraction I’ll, he’ll, she’ll etc. is more common. I have used contractions for the examples in this section.

It’s common to use will after the phrase “I think…” 


It’s a nice day today, I think I’ll ride my bike to work.

Wendy just called me from her car, she's stuck in traffic. I think she’ll be late for the morning meeting.

English verbs future tense
I think she'll be stuck for at least an hour!

Offer 


Math is hard, I’ll help you with your homework after dinner.

If you need a hand to pack your things before the moving van comes we’ll come over and help you tonight.

Agree


Mom: Can you clean up the dishes after dinner?
Son: Sure, I’ll do it right after dessert.


Promise


Daughter: Dad can come to my school band performance this Friday after work?
Dad: Absolutely! I’ll be there in the front row!

The negative form - won’t - is also common when we promise NOT to do something in the future.


Paul is so rude! We won’t invite him to any more of our parties.

You can trust me, I won’t tell anyone your secret.

English verbs future tense
Your secret is safe with me.

When you ask someone to do something will is the natural fit.


Will you help me with this?

Will you carry a few of these boxes for me?

And when you ask someone about a future situation.


Will you be there on Sunday?

Will it rain tomorrow? 


② I am doing...




As we learned in the first example, I’m doing is used for planned activities, actions we have already decided to take.


I’m watching TV all weekend, it’s been a long week.

I’m watching TV all weekend, it’s been a long week.
I'm going to watch TV for 18 hours straight!

The grammar going to (verb) is also natural in English.


I’m going to watch TV all weekend, it’s been a long week.

Jill’s going to meet her college friend on Saturday.

My wife and I are going to look at houses tonight after work.

We were going to play hockey on Saturday but the arena is closed for repairs.


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