Hello my friends, and Happy Christmas to everyone! 🙂
I’m back with another practical English grammar lesson, and today let’s look at how to talk about future in conversational English. Just to remind you what I’m teaching in Practical English Grammar – it’s conversational English and it’s not always 100% correct.
Real life English is different from school books and text books, so I’m using my extensive experience as a foreign English speaker living in an English speaking country to help you speak more fluently.
All right, so let’s look at how we speak about future events in English. The standard grammatical Future Tense in English is formed by using “WILL” followed by the verb’s infinitive form. However, this is far from the full picture of how you can describe future in English.
To be more precise, this is just one quarter of possibilities that the English language offers, and here are the other three ways how you can describe a future action:
- I’m going to come home,
- I’m coming home,
- I come home.
Are you slightly confused? Are you thinking now – “Why is Robby giving examples of Present Progressive and Simple Present Tenses? They’re clearly used to describe actions taking place right now, in this very moment!”
Well, you’re right, they are used for that purpose, but Present Progressive, for instance, can also be used to describe Future actions which have already been arranged and the very fact of the arrangement is kind of going on right now, does that make sense?
If you say “I’m coming home tomorrow” you mean indeed that you are going to arrive back home tomorrow, but you have apparently decided at some stage that you’ll come home. So as far as English grammar is concerned, the progressive action is already taking place – since the moment you decided that you would come the action is kind of happening – only taking place tomorrow instead of now.
Of course, if you make a decision right now and here, you would indeed use WILL followed by the verb and it would sound something like “OK, I will come home tomorrow”.
But you’ll never sound a fluent English speaker if the only way to describe a future action for you is “I will come home”. In fact, this grammar form WILL followed by a verb isn’t that often used in real English and it’s very badly overused by foreign English speakers ❗
But how do you know which grammar form to use next time when you have a chat with someone and talk about future events? I know that when you speak you don’t have much time to think about how you’re going to create the sentence and if you do that, your speech becomes very slow and hesitant.
When you open your mouth, you have to produce an instantaneous speech, so all the grammar rules have to be incorporated into your English naturally; you can’t be imagining a list of rules and choosing a grammar form which is the most fitting one for a particular situation…
Present Progressive – the PRIMARY English Future Tense!
I want you to think of the Present Progressive Tense – “I’m eating out tonight” as the PRIMARY way of describing future actions!
If you check my video Speaking about Past events during English conversations you’ll realize that in daily conversations Present Progressive is used a lot to tell about Past events.
The same goes with events taking place in Future – the Present Progressive Tense is used a lot to talk about those actions that are to take place at some stage in the near future and the decision about them has been made before the conversation happens. And if you think about it, the biggest part of all future activities you talk about on a daily basis are decisions made by people, so no wonder Present Progressive Tense is used extensively in conversational English.
If you want to ask your friend what he has planned for tonight, you don’t say: “What will you do tonight?” You simply have to use Present Progressive and say: “What are you doing tonight?”
Technically it’s Present Tense, but in this case your question is about your friend’s future activities and when you ask it, you assume that your friend has already decided what to do. And regardless whether he has or has not, the nature of your question doesn’t change, and the same goes with similar questions you’d ask on a daily basis.
“Are we doing the test today?”
“Is Bill coming with us to see the match on Saturday?”
Let’s say you want to remind your boss that you’re taking your holidays in two weeks. Many foreigners would say: “I just want to remind you I will take my holidays in a fortnight.” It doesn’t sound completely wrong, and any English speaker – be it a native or a foreign English speaker – would definitely understand what you’re saying.
But if you say: “I just want to remind you I’m taking my holidays in a fortnight” you do sound much better, because that’s exactly how a fluent English speaker would say! 😉
It’s an arranged event – you obviously spoke with your boss earlier during the year about your holidays and now you’re just reminding him of something that is about to happen. So if you want to be fluent – start using Present Progressive Tense when speaking about future events!
Using Present Progressive for Future isn’t Stressed Enough in Mainstream Education…
If you check any English grammar reference book you’ll see that it says “You CAN use Present Progressive (Continuous) Tense for future arrangements which are decisions from the past for the near future.”
The problem is, however, that very often this gets completely ignored because it’s not usually stressed enough. They say that you CAN use it, yes, but usually that reference sits at in the end of Present Progressive chapter although its proper place would be in the Future Tenses chapter!
So foreigners stick with using the WILL Future form whenever they talk about future events, but please bear in mind that you can use the WILL Future Tense only when you make a decision at the moment of speaking!
Most of the references you’re going to make about future actions during daily conversations with friends and work colleagues will refer to decisions that have already been made ❗
These are the future activities that have been arranged, they’re nearly a FACT – and don’t confuse them with future actions that are just plans and it’s not really known whether they’re going to happen.
She’s calling round tonight at 8 PM; you can come along if you want!
Courier isn’t coming this evening, we may cancel all deliveries.
I’m meeting with my ex this weekend for a cup of coffee.
If you think about all these above examples, you’ll realize that those actions have been obviously arranged or not arranged as with the courier who isn’t coming (but still the very nature of a courier visit is that it’s usually arranged!).
Similarly, a big part of our daily conversations when we’re communicating with other English speakers would refer to events that have been arranged previously at some stage, so you can confidently use the Present Progressive Tense.
Just try to imagine a conversation you’d normally have with someone at work, college or at home. Much of the stuff you’d be talking about would be about what you or the other person has committed to do tonight or tomorrow or at some other stage in the near future.
“What are you doing over the weekend?” is a proper way of asking the question instead of “What will you do over the weekend?” Yes, the WILL form is the actual grammatical Future Tense, and if your mind is in the translation mode from your native language, you probably do a direct translation…
If that’s your habit – please stop doing it right now and as I said earlier on – start thinking of the Present Progressive – “What are you doing” as the main way of describing Future actions in conversational English.
“Martha isn’t coming back, she’s sick” – instead of “Martha won’t come back”.
“ I’m babysitting tonight, I can’t go with you folks, sorry!” – instead of “I will baby-sit.”
You see – all these actions that I just mentioned have been decided earlier on. Before you can tell someone that Martha isn’t coming back, you must have spoken with her before, otherwise how you could know that she’s not coming back? Same goes with babysitting – it’s been arranged and now you’re stating a fact and you’re not deciding it right now, you knew it all along that you’d baby-sit tonight, right?
Use Present Progressive when Talking about Typical Daily Arrangements
So – anything you want to talk or ask about that concerns future actions that are arranged – is to be used as Present Progressive. And it’s typical that such actions concern plans people have made about going out, meeting up somewhere, doing something, coming or not coming to work or school, in other words – they’re all those little daily future actions we normally talk about and that were committed to do.
So here’s another typical example.
How’s your sister, is she coming to work?
No, she’s still sick; she’s staying at home till Tuesday.
We have to use the Present Progressive Tense here because coming or not coming to work is a decision that your chat partner’s sister would normally have already decided upon. And even if you get an answer: “I don’t know, she didn’t tell me”, it doesn’t change the NATURE of the question.
Even if you were chatting with the sister and you would expect to make her mind up right now, you’d ask the question the same way. The conversation would sound like this:
So are you coming to work tomorrow or not?
Well… OK, I’ll come in but I’m still not feeling well.
You see – she made up her mind right at the moment of the conversation, that’s why the WILL + verb Future Tense is used, but it still doesn’t affect your question!
After all, you can’t always know if the person you’re talking to has decided upon the particular thing or not, and you’d really be going mad by trying to adjust your English speech to any possibility – whether the person has decided or not, or if they’re about to decide now, or in five minutes, or whatever, don’t make it all so complicated for yourself!
The bottom line here is the following:
From this moment and on start perceiving the Present Progressive Tense as the basic English Grammar Tense for describing future actions during daily conversations! These actions are the ones people would normally arrange previously and it makes up a huge part of spoken English ❗
The Amazing Present Progressive Tense!
So as you can see, the Present Progressive Tense is amazing. You can use it to describe actions that are going on now at this very moment, or past actions when you’re telling a story about them, or future activities that are arranged!
Don’t interrupt me; don’t you see I’m telling a story? So where was I? (Present)
Oh yes, I remember now. So we’re entering the night club and then all of a sudden… (Past)
Sorry, I have to go now, are you coming along tonight? (Future)
You see – I just used the Present Progressive to describe Past, Present and Future and you can memorize this list to do the same:
- Things that are going on at this very moment;
- Telling a friendly story about what went on;
- Talking about future arrangements.
It’s going to make your daily conversations much easier and you’ll definitely sound more native and fluent ❗
But of course, you can’t use Present Progressive Tense all the time, so next time we’ll look at other ways to describe Future actions. “Will” followed by verb, “Going to” form and also Simple Present can be used to talk about future and each of those grammar forms serve their purpose and they’re also necessary.
However, I’d say you’d sound much better if you overused Present Progressive rather than the Future Tense in your spoken English. English teachers would probably kill me for saying that, but I really think that the standard “I Will …” sounds like taken right from the grammar book.
Way too many foreigners use it as the only way of speaking about future actions and it sounds really bad!
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!