4 Ways to Talk about the Future in English | Advanced English Grammar

by | Apr 14, 2021 | 45 comments

This lesson was originally published in September 2016.
It was updated in April 2021 with new content, including a video and practice questions.

Hey! I have a question for you. What are you doing this weekend?

Think about your answer in English. Does your answer include the word WILL? For example, did you answer:

  • I will go shopping this weekend.
  • I will visit my family this weekend.
  • I will see a movie.

Is this how you learned to talk about the future in your English classes?

To use will + verb to talk about the future. For example:

  • will visit my grandmother today.
  • She will go to the movie theater with her friends this evening.

 

Grammatically, what you learned is correct but there is one big problem… We don’t really talk like that in English!

In real life, we use 4 different ways to talk about our future arrangements, plans, intentions, wishes, expectations, and predictions. And we usually don’t use WILL to talk about the future.

Imagine these different questions:

  • What are you doing tonight after work?
  • What are your plans for the weekend?
  • What vacation plans do you have for this summer?
  • What do you think you will do this year for the holidays?
  • What are the company’s predictions for sales next year?
  • Which strategies will help to grow our sales by 5% next year? In 3 years?

Each of these questions focuses on the future. These are very common questions in daily conversation and for professional situations.

 

But here is the good news:

With this lesson, you are going to learn exactly how to speak about the future in English naturally!! We won’t focus only on grammar rules. Instead, let’s think about real-life future situations in English and how you can talk about them using grammar you already know in English.

English Grammar Tenses for Talking about the Future

Scheduled Events / Timetables

Think about these questions and how you might answer them:

  • How do you get to work? Do you take the bus or the metro? What time does your bus leave on Friday?
  • If you are talking to a client on the phone and you have to go to a meeting soon, what might you say?
  • Does your friend have a birthday party scheduled for this weekend? What time does it start?

These questions are focused on scheduled events that you cannot change.

For example, you cannot change the timetable for the trains or buses.

And if your friend has a birthday party scheduled for 25 people, you probably can’t change the date and time.

If you have a business meeting later in the day, most of the time it is something you cannot change.

Now think about how you might answer these questions:

  • What time does the train leave on Friday morning?
  • When does the next bus arrive?
  • What time does your friend’s party begin on Saturday?

Generally, we use the present simple to talk about future scheduled events (events that you cannot control or change) and timetables (public transportation schedules, movie times, class times, programs, etc.) for example:

  • The train leaves at 8:45 a.m. on Friday.
  • The next bus arrives in 12 minutes.
  • Susan’s party starts at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday evening.
  • My next meeting is right after lunch and then I have another at 3:30 p.m.
  • He has a dental appointment scheduled for this afternoon.
  • Classes starts next Monday.
  • We have to hurry! The movie starts in 5 minutes!
  • The grocery store closes in just a few minutes.

In each of these examples, we’re focused on scheduled events or timetables. This means we’re focused on the date or time for which something is scheduled in the future.

Plans / Arrangements

Now, look at your calendar. What is written on your calendar? Do you have an upcoming plans or arrangements? Think about these questions:

  • What are you doing this weekend?
  • Where are you going for your summer holidays?
  • Where are you meeting your client for lunch tomorrow?
  • Where are you celebrating the holidays this year? At your home or your mother’s home?

These are common questions focused on your plans or arrangements. This means it is something you’ve thought about and you’ve made arrangements, for example, made reservations, bought tickets, registered, had a discussion with someone else.

We generally use the present continuous form to talk about our future plans and arrangements. This can include the form going to + verb that you may have learned.

Now remember, the present continuous is also used to talk about what you are doing now, so let’s look at two examples to help understand the difference:

A: What are you doing? (question focused on now)

B: I’m working on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. (answer is focused on now)

A: What are you doing tomorrow? (question focused on future)

B: I’m meeting Sue for lunch to discuss the contract. (answer is focused on future)

Let’s look at more examples for talking about future plans:

  • We’re working in the garden most of the weekend to get it ready to plant and then we’re having dinner with some friends Saturday night. What about you?
  • We’re going to Corsica for a couple of weeks in August. I just booked our tickets. I’m SO excited!!!
  • We’re meeting at Lucia tomorrow for lunch. Do you want to come?
  • My family’s coming to my house for Thanksgiving this year. I’m cooking most of the dishes but my sister’s bringing dessert and my mom’s making a salad.

Intentions / Predictions with Evidence

Previously we talked about plans. With plans, arrangements have been made or discussed and agreed upon. An intention is something want to do, something you’ve thought about but you haven’t made any arrangements. For example:

  • I’m going to start exercising after the New Year! I’ve been eating too much over the holidays. (No arrangements are made by you want to do this.)
  • What are you going to order? (at a restaurant)
  • He’s going to travel around Europe or Asia after he graduates from school next year.
  • What are we going to do about this customer complaint?
  • When are you going to respond to Susan about the conference? I think she’s waiting to hear from you.

Do you notice the pattern? For talking about intentions, we use the going to + infinitive verb form.

 

This is also the form generally used when you make a prediction based on evidence. For example:

  • Look at the clouds coming in! It’s going to rain shortly. (We predict the rain based on the evidence of heavy rain clouds in the sky.)
  • Did you know Susan’s pregnant? She’s going to have the baby in 3 months.
  • If we continue at this rate, we’re going to have our best sales quarter yet.

Pronunciation Note:

In American English pronunciation, we often connect the sounds between going + to. This is called connected speech. In spoken form, going to sounds like gonna. However, this is not appropriate in written form.

Predictions without Evidence / Factual Statements / Immediate Decisions

Now look at these final questions and think about how to answer them:

  • What do you think life will be like in 20 years?
  • What will happen if you don’t pass your exam?
  • Do think it will rain while we’re on vacation? Should we pack a rain jacket?
  • Will you be able to come to my party this weekend?

Finally! Talking about the future with will. When you make a prediction based on something you believe, think, or feel, then it is common to use will + verb. This suggests it is your prediction but there is no fact or evidence for it. For example:

  • Cars will fly and everyone will live in glass houses by 2040.
  • I don’t think it will rain. That would be very unusual for August.
  • I’ll come to your party if I can get my project finished at work. We’re under a tight deadline.

 

We also use will to talk about factual future statements. For example:

  • I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. But tomorrow the sun will rise and it will be a new day.
  • We will have a full moon tonight.

 

And lastly, if you’ve made an immediate decision at the moment of speaking, then will is often used. For example:

A: The phone’s ringing!

B: I’ll get it.

A: Oh no! I’ve spilled milk all over the floor and I’m already running late. I don’t have time for this.

Now It’s Your Turn to Practice Talking About the Future

I’d love to hear from you and help you practice using these forms correctly and naturally in English.

Take a few minutes this week to answer 2-3 of these questions. Be sure to share in the comments section below this lesson:

  • What are you doing this weekend?
  • Where are you going for your next vacation?
  • What are you going to do after you graduate from university?
  • How are you going to celebrate if you get the new job?
  • What do you think life will be like in 50 years?
  • What are your plans for your next holiday? (Talk about Christmas, Eid, Easter, the New Year, etc.)
  • Do you have plans after work this evening?

Use the video and lesson to help you. Or if you have any questions, the best place to connect with me or others is in the comments section.

I look forward to hearing from you!!

~ Annemarie

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