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Referring to things in the Future

In English, there is no one specific tense to talk about the future. Rather, there are ways to talk about the future depending on how the event is viewed.

Hong Kong students tend to overuse will when talking about the future. For example:

I will meet my supervisor this Friday
My lecture will finish at 3.30pm so I can meet you at 3.45.
I am getting really fat. I will try to lose some weight.

More appropriate language may be:

I am meeting my supervisor this Friday.
My lecture finishes at 3.30 so I can meet you at 3.45
I am getting really fat. I am going to try and lose some weight.

In the first sentence, the student is referring to an arrangement that has been made with his supervisor. The present continuous tense is often used for such situations and, often, reference is made to dates, times and places

In the second sentence, the student is referring to a timetabled event (a lecture). When referring to events such as classes, movies, flight and bus schedules, where times and dates are pre-determined, the present tense is often used.

In the final sentence the student is referring to his or her future intention, or plan. BE GOING TO + bare infinitive is often used in such situations.

BE GOING TO + bare infinitive is also used to express a prediction based on evidence.

After Titanic, everybody knew that Leonardo DeCaprio was going to become famous.

There are other ways to refer to the future too.

Watch the following clip about NASA’s goal to launch a new rover to Mars.

Click here to watch the videoClick here to hide the video

Video ©TED.com

Notice three more ways of referring to the future:

NASA to Send new Rover to Mars in 2020

(NASA’s last mission) might be the last such effort for a very long time

The new machine will launch in 2020 and land a year later.

In the first sentence, the event is referred to in a formal style. This use of the infinitive is often used to refer to official plans.

The second sentence speculates about a future event. The modal verbs may, might, and could are often used when users want to be more tentative about a future event.

The final sentence expresses a prediction about a future event.

We can also use ‘ll to make quick decisions (often in conjunction with think) and offers:

I think I’ll walk home tonight. I need the exercise

I’ll pay for this meal. You bought the last one.

Consider the sentences below. Click and drag the descriptions in the Yellow Boxes next to the corresponding sentence
Read the following situation. Complete the sentences with you own idea. When finished, click the answer and feedback button.

  1. The Hong Kong Government is to host (host) Hillary Clinton on her final trip to the territory as Secretary of State

    Here we use is to host. This form of BE plus infinitive is a very formal style often used in headlines. It is also used in commands, especially from parents e.g. Mum to young Child: You can go to Ocean Park for Halloween but you are to be back by 11 pm

  2. Some friends and I are going to go (go) to Ocean Park for Halloween and we’ve got a spare ticket. Are you interested?

    Here we use are going to. The present continuous is used here because the situation describes ‘an arrangement’. This future form often occurs in conjunction with dates, times and places.

  3. If nobody else wants this last piece of moonquake I 'll have will have (have) it.

    Here, we use ‘ll to express ‘an instant decision’ that has been made by the speaker. This use of ‘ll is also used when we make an offer.

  4. Chi Wai is very ambitious. He told me he is going to be (be) Director of the Centre before he is thirty

    Here, we use is going to. The use of BE GOING TO + bare infinitive is often used, especially in an informal style to describe plans, or intentions. It is Chi Wai’s ‘plan’ to become director.

  5. The movie finishes (finish) at 7.30 so there is plenty of time for us to eat afterwards

    Here we use finishes. The present tense is often used to talk about any timetables, routines and schedules, including those of flights, classes, buses etc. In this case the film starts and finishes at a scheduled time.

  6. I 'll let will let (let) you borrow my iPad for the presentation if you promise not to break it.

    Here we use ‘ll. The use of ‘ll is often used to express an offer. In a sense, it is similar to the instant decision usage of ‘ll described in 3 above.

  7. Many commentators believe construction of the bridge to Macau will cause (cause) substantial environmental damage.

    Here, we use will to express a prediction about an event, in this case a causal relationship between the construction and environmental damage. There is a high degree of certainty being expressed.

  8. The temperature is dropping every day. It is going to be (be) a cold winter again this year.

    Here we use is going to. BE GOING TO + verb is used to express a prediction based on clear and present evidence. In this case the evidence is the recent data regarding the temperature.

  9. Obama might achieve may achieve (achieve) more in his second term as president, but I am not sure.

    Here, we use might or may to express a possibility. The user is expressing a lesser degree of certainty about the event.

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