Different Means of Expressing Future Actions Compared

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All future actions are by nature hypothetical. Owing to
that, ways of expressing future actions — in addition to the mean-
ing of futurity — are often associated with various other modal
meanings, such as intention, willingness, readiness, obligation, as-
surance, expectation and the like.

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Different Means of Expressing Future Actions Compared

  § 45. All future actions are by nature hypothetical. Owing to 
that, ways of expressing future actions — in addition to the mean- 
ing of futurity — are often associated with various other modal 
meanings, such as intention, willingness, readiness, obligation, as- 
surance, expectation and the like. That explains why English is 
rich in means of referring an action to the future.

  § 46. The following is a description of different means of ex- 
pressing future actions in present-day English:!

  1) The Present Continuous is used to express a future action as 
definitely settled due to one's previous decision. The action is go- 
ing to take place in the near future and the time is, as a rule, indi- 
cated in the sentence by means of such adverbial modifiers as to- 
night, next week, in a few days,

    e.g. She is coming to lunch on Thursday. 
    You know, I'm going away tonight. 
    Are you staying  long?

    Teddie is leaving here by the first train tomorrow. 
    Patrick, are we doing anything at the weekend?

  This use of the Present Continuous is also possible without 
any time indications and then the action refers to the immediate 

    e.g. It's Fred. He's going to Italy and wants to say good-bye. 
    I'm just going upstairs to change and pack. 
    I'm sorry you are leaving England. 
    And now I must go as we are dining out.

   Some of these forms can be regarded as purely grammatical ways of expressing 
future actions; others are on the border-line between lexical and grammatical means.



  Note. Note that in questions beginning with when the Present Continuous a 
ways refers the action to the future.

e.g. When is he coming?

When are you going back?

  When the Present Continuous is used to refer an action to the 
future, the action is regarded as fixed and the speaker is certain 
that it will take place.

  With stative verbs the Future Indefinite should be applied to 
refer an action to the future.

  2) The Future Continuous is also one of the means of express 
ing future actions. It is described in detail in "Verbs", § 41.

  The difference between the Present Continuous used to denote 
a future action and the Future Continuous becomes quite evident 
if we compare the following sentences:

e.g. We are meeting tomorrow (= we have arranged to meet tomor

    row, we have fixed the date of our meeting). 
    We shall be meeting tomorrow (= not because of some ar 
    rangement but in the normal course of events; either be 
    cause we work together, or because we attend classes togeth 
    er, or regularly play some game at the same place and at 
    the same time, etc.).

  3) To be + infinitive (with to), like the Present Continuous, 
serves to indicate a previous arrangement, but in addition to that 
meaning it generally implies obligation resulting from that ar- 
rangement. Besides, it differs from the Present Continuous in 
that it does not necessarily refer the action to the near future. 
The verb to be in this combination is regarded as a modal verb.

  Since a previous arrangement is the basic meaning of this com- 
bination and the action always refers to the future, no special indi 
cation of time is needed in the sentence, though the time may be 
mentioned if necessary.

e.g. I've had a letter from home. I'm to go back at once.

    This autumn he is entering the Military College. He is to 
    make the Army his career.

  The meaning of obligation may become so strong that "to be + 
infinitive" sometimes expresses orders or instructions which are 
to be carried out in the future. 

e.g. Milly, you are not to talk like that in front of the child.

4) To be going to + infinitive is an important means of refer- 
ring an action to the future which is frequently used in modern 
English. It is convenient to refer to it as the "going-to form". 
The "going-to form" may have the following meanings: 
a) It serves to express premeditated intention which means 
that the person denoted by the subject has been planning for some 
time to perform the action, has been thinking of it, that some 
preparation for the action has been in progress. Indications of 
time are optional in this case.

e.g. I'm not going to live at home.

    I'm going to say something dreadful to you, Dorothy.

    I'm going to tell him what I think of him.

    He's not going to make any concessions.

    Are you going to play tennis?

    What are you going to do about it?

    She's going to explain that tomorrow.

    Oh, I'm not going to marry for years yet.

  Note. The verb to go is actually not the Present Continuous here. It is the 
Present Continuous only in form; its use has become idiomatic in this combination.

  Although this means of referring an action to the future is fre- 
quently found in English, its application is somewhat restricted — 
it is mainly found with dynamic verbs. An important exception to 
the rule, however, is the verb to be which often occurs in this 

e.g. He's going to be a solicitor.

    Of course, the trip's going- to be wonderful.

  The verbs to go and to come are rarely found with the "going- 
form". Thus, He is going to go or He is going to come are un- 
common in English. These verbs are generally used in the Present 
Continuous instead.

e.g. Oh, are you going to Italy?


    re you coming, Mother?

  b) It may also be used to show the speaker's feeling that the 
action is imminent, that it is unavoidable in the near future. No 
indication of time is generally needed in this case.



e.g. I don't know what is going to happen.

    "The next few years," said George, "are going to be a won- 
    derful time to be alive." 
    Oh, what is going to become of us? 
    I'm afraid I'm going to cry.

  1. The Present Indefinite is also an important means of ex- 
    pressing future actions. It is used in four different cases which 
    have been described in "Verbs", § 10, 4.
  2. The Future Indefinite. After all the other means of express- 
    ing future actions have been described, it is now necessary to see 
    what remains for the Future Indefinite proper to express.

  In the first place it should be pointed out that the Future In- 
definite is used differently with dynamic and stative verbs.

  With stative verbs the Future Indefinite is used to express 
any action referring to the future, without any restrictions.

    e.g. His suggestion will interest you enormously. 
    You'll think his ideas absurd. 
    She'll know the truth soon.

    Don't bother, I shall manage all right by myself. 
    Dad will never consent to our marriage. 
    It'll be rather fun coming up to town to eat my dinners. 
    I'll be back presently.

    We shall have some news for you to take to your people. 
    It will not make much difference to me.

  The other means of expressing future actions are not common 
with stative verbs — some of them seem to be impossible with 
these verbs (e.g. the Present Continuous, the Future Continuous, 
partly the Present Indefinite) while others are uncommon (e.g. the 
"going-to form").

  Although the number of stative verbs is limited, they are in 
frequent use, which makes the role of the Future Indefinite very 
important in English.

  With dynamic verbs the Future Indefinite is used freely only 
under certain conditions:

  a) In the principal clause of a complex sentence with a clause of 
time, condition and concession. 1

  1 In the subordinate clauses we find the Present Indefinite or the Present Perfect 
(see "Verbs", § 10, 4 and § 16, 3). 

e.,g. "We shall catch the train if we start now," she insisted.

    You're the prettiest woman I've ever known and I shall say

      the same when you're a hundred. 
    As soon as we have had tea, Fred, we shall go to inspect your

    We'll talk about it whenever he comes.

  Other means of expressing future actions are uncommon in 
this case.

b) In passive constructions.

e.g. He'll be voted down.

    My chief will be informed of your request. 
    She will be paid in cash.

  c) To express a succession of actions in the future. No other 
means seems to be suitable here.

e.g. I shall prepare you a nice little dinner and then we'll leave


    I'll take a walk to the sea and on my way back I'll buy you a 

  d) When the time of the realization of the action is indefinite 
or when its realization is remote.

    e.g. We shall meet again one day. 
    Life will teach her a lesson. 
    He'll never sell his little cottage.

  Such sentences often contain adverbial modifiers of indefinite 
time, e.g. always, forever, in future, never, some day and the like.

  e) To denote actions whose realization is uncertain, doubtful 
or merely supposed, as their fulfilment depends on some implied 

    e.g. You mustn't cry. Please, don't, or I shall go to pieces. 
    Protest as you like, Mr Руке, it won't alter my decision.

  In this case we sometimes find such attitudinal adverbs in the 
Sentence as perhaps, probably, of course and the like.

    e..g. They'll probably get a lot of satisfaction out of our quarrel. 
    Of course he will send you a letter in a few days.


  f) In object clauses after verbs (and their equivalents) express- 
ing personal views or opinions, such as to be afraid, to believe, to 
be sure, to doubt, to expect, to have no doubt, to hope, to imagine, 
to know, to suppose, to suspect, to think, to wonder
and the like. 
Sometimes these verbs are used in parenthesis.

    e.g. He thinks a scandal will ruin his reputation. 
    I don't know what I shall do without you. 
    I'm afraid he won't talk to you. 
    I've no doubt you'll explain it perfectly. 
    His new novel is (I'm quite sure of it) another masterpiece.

  On the whole it should be noted that although other means of 
expressing futurity can also be used under the conditions de- 
scribed above (a, b, c, d, e, f), they are applied when their mean- 
ing is specially required.

  § 47. If dynamic verbs are used in the Future Indefinite under 
conditions other than those described above, the sentences become 
modally coloured. This occurs owing to the fact that the auxilia- 
ries shall and will preserve their modal meanings.

  Thus shall preserves its original meaning of obligation, if 
somewhat modified, with the 2nd and 3rd persons in sentences ex- 
pressing promise, threat or warning.

    e.g. I promise you, Arthur, that Harold shan't do anything about it. 
    He shall have a scandal. He shall have the worst scandal 
    there has been in London for years.

  Shall also preserves its modal meaning when it is used in ask- 
ing after the will of the person addressed.

    e.g. Shall I bring you some coffee? 
    Oh, Alfred, what shall we do?

  Will (in print will or 'll is often used in affirmative sentences 
with the first person, singular and plural, to express such mean- 
ings as wish, willingness, readiness, intention, determination to 
perform an action.

e.g. Г11 do what I can.

    I'll go wherever you take me. 

  Will in sentences of this kind also shows that the speaker of- 
fers to perform an action.

e.g. I'll go and get a drink for you.

    I'll wire to have the room ready for them. 
    I'll come with you, Barbara.

  In affirmative sentences will with the 2nd and 3rd persons 
may occasionally express a command.

    e.g. You will come here tomorrow not later than ten, Mr Lickcheese. 
    Bernard will pay the taxi.

  In negative sentences will expresses refusal to perform an ac- 

e.g. I won't argue with you.

    He won't be ordered about.

  In general questions, direct and indirect, as well as in disjunc- 
tive questions, will also preserves its modal meaning and the in- 
terrogative sentence is actually to be understood as a request or 
an invitation.

    e.g. Will you ask him to ring me back? 
    You'll wait for us, won't you? 
    Oh, ask him if he won't come in.

  The same is true of complex sentences with an if-clause in 
which will is used to express willingness or consent.

    e.g. Oh, but we shall be delighted if you'll lunch with us. 
    Will may express supposition.

    e.g. As she entered the room, the telephone rang. "That'll be your 
    mother," Jenny said to her husband.

  For a detailed treatment of the modal verbs shall and will see 
"Verbs", §§105, 113-116.

  § 48. By way of exception to the above rules, dynamic verbs 
mау occasionally be found in the Future Indefinite to express 
mere futurity without any additional modal meanings. This use of



the Future Indefinite may be understood as an expression of neu- 
trality or impartiality on the part of the speaker. {Usually one of 
the other means of expressing futurity is used in such cases.)

e.g. I shall dine in my own room.

    I shall leave you with your father for half an hour. 
    In this chapter we shall present a brief account of new meth- 
    ods that we have used. 
    Be quiet. Somebody will answer the bell.

  This use of the Future Indefinite is found in formal announce- 
ments of future plans in newspapers and news broadcasts.

    e.g. This is the weather forecast for the afternoon. A belt of de- 
    pression will spread further north, showers will fall in 
    southern districts.

  §49. It stands to reason that sometimes the difference be- 
tween the various means of referring an action to the future may 
become unimportant, as the distinction is often very subtle. Thus, 
there are cases when two different forms may be used inter- 
changeably without any noticeable difference in meaning.

    Cf. We are going to the pictures tonight. 
    We are to go to the pictures tonight. 
    He is taking his exam next week. 
    He will be taking his exam next week. 
    I'm meeting Tom at the station. 
    I'm going to meet Tom at the station.

  § 50. Note the use of the Future Indefinite in the following 
stereotyped sentences:

    e.g. I'll ask you to excuse me. 
    You'll excuse me, Gardner. 
    Well, we'll see. 
    It'll do
    you good.

    It won't do them harm to cool their heads a bit. 
    You've got a mind like a steel trap. You'll go far. 
    No good will come of it. 

        Means of Expressing Future Actions Viewed 
        from the Past

  § 51. English has some special forms to express future actions if 
they are viewed from some moment in the past. The most common 
of these means is the Future-in-the-Past, which, like the Future,

has the following forms: the Future Indefinite-in-the-Past, the Future Continuous-in-the-Past, and the Future Perfect-in-the-Past.

  1) The Future Indefinite-in-the-Past is an analytical form 
which is built up by means of the auxiliary verbs should (for the 
first person, singular and plural) and would (for the second and 
third persons, singular and plural) and the infinitive of the notion- 
al verb without the particle to (e.g. / said I should do it. I said he 
would do it,
etc.). In present-day English there is a tendency to use 
would for all the persons. Besides, the difference in the use of

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