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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 areyou 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 idiomaticin 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.

5) 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.

6) 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 dinein my own room.

I shallleave you with your father for half an hour.
In this chapter we shall presenta brief account of new meth-
ods that we have used.
Be quiet. Somebody willanswer 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 spreadfurther north, showers will fallin
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,
thereare cases when two different forms may be used inter-
changeably without any noticeable difference in meaning.

Cf.We are goingto the pictures tonight.
We are to goto the pictures tonight.
He is takinghis exam next week.
He will be takinghis exam next week.
I'm meetingTom at the station.
I'm going to meetTom at the station.

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

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

It won't dothem harm to cool their heads a bit.
You've got a mind like a steel trap. You'll go far.
No good will comeof 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-Pastis 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

should and would disappears altogether in spoken English where
the contracted form 'd is used with all the persons (e.g. / said I'd
to it. I said he'd do it,
etc.). In negative sentences the particle not
в placed after the auxiliaries should and would with which it often
forms the contractions shouldn'tand wouldn't(e.g. I said I should
not (shouldn't) do it. I said he would not (wouldn't) do it,

The use of the Future Indefinite-in-the-Past is structurally de-
pendent: mainly found in object clauses after one of the past fi-
miteforms in the principal clause. 1

e.g. At twenty I did not know whether any woman would loveme

with her whole heart.

I felt that further conversation with Dave wouldbe unprofit-
able at that moment.
He was sure I should getthe job.

The Future Indefinite-in-the-Past expresses the time of the ac-
tion relatively (see "Verbs", § 54), i.e. with regard to a given past
moment the action of the subordinate clause follows that of the
Principal clause.

2) The Future Continuous-in-the-Pastis an analytical form
which is built up by means of the auxiliary verb to be in the Fu-
ture Indefinite-in-the-Past and the ing-form of the notional verb


1 It can be used in all types of clauses in which the rules of the sequence of tenses
are observed.

(e.g. / said I should be seeing him often soon. I said he would be
seeing her often soon,
etc.). In negative sentences the particle not
is placed after the first auxiliary (e.g. I said I should not be see-
ing him often now. I said he would not be seeing her often now,
etc.). In spoken English the contracted form 'd is used in affirma-
tive sentences and the forms shouldn't and wouldn't in negative

The Future Continuous-in-the-Past generally serves to show
that an action which is future from a definite past moment, is ex-
pected to take place in the natural course of events. Like the Fu-
ture Indefinite-in-the-Past, it is also structurally dependent and
is mainly found in object clauses.

e.g. Towards the end of May he had a letter from Rosalind, in
which she said that she would soon be announcing her en-
gagement to Ralph Udal.

He said he would be seeing her that evening at the Atkinsons.

I felt that in a moment we should be talking soberly like two
old acquaintances.

It should be noted that the application of the Future Con
tinuous-in-the-Past is infrequent.

3) The Future Perfect-in-the-Past (should/would have done)
denotes an action completed before a definite moment which is fu-
ture from the point of view of the past. But the form hardly ever
occurs in English as it is seldom required by the situation.

e.g. I was afraid that he would have started off by the time I got
to the coast.

§ 52. In addition to the Future-in-the-Past there are other means
of expressing future actions from the point of view of the past.

1) The Past Continuous is used to express a future-in-the-past
action which is definitely settled. The action is expected to take
place soon after a definite past moment. The time of its realiza-
tion is often, though not necessarily, indicated in the sentence by
means of adverbial modifiers.

e.g. In the pocket of his dinner-jacket was a letter from Annette.

She was coming back in a fortnight.
The last time I saw him, he said he was going on the stage.

2) To be to + infinitive, which is usually treated as a modal
phrase, serves, like the Past Continuous, to indicate a previous
arrangement, but in addition to that meaning it generally implies
obligation resulting from that arrangement.

e.g. I've still got the letter. I was to post it. But of course later I

He was beside himself with excitement because his book was
to be published next month.

"To be to + infinitive" may also serve to express orders or in-
structions (mainly in reported speech).

e.g. I had already impressed upon her that she was not to men-
tion my name to him.


There was a special order that no one was to come to the sta-
tion to see the battalion off.

When it denotes a future action viewed from the past, "to be
to +
infinitive" may acquire the meaning of something destined to
happen. (This meaning is not found with "to be to + infinitive"
when it is used with reference to the actual future.)

e.g. And then came the offer of the research which was to occupy

so much of his working life.
At that time I did not know what was to become of me.

3) To be going to + infinitive may have two different meanings:
a) Premeditated intention, which means that the person denot-
ed by the subject had been planning for some time to perform the
action, that some preparation for the action had been in progress.

This use of the "going-to form" is chiefly found in object clauses.

e.g. Finn said he was going to write a letter to his uncle in Ireland.
I told George what I was going to say to the Committee.

It is noteworthy that the Past tense of the "going-to form"
may, however, be structurally independent, when it occurs in in-
dependent sentences. In this case, in addition to premeditated in-
tention, it denotes that the action was not carried out, i.e. the
person indicated by the subject was prevented from carrying out
his intention.

e.g. He was going to meetyou himself, only his car was stolen.
It's your birthday, Stan. I was going to keepit a secret until


b) The speaker's feeling that the action was unavoidable, that
it was imminent. This use of the "going-to form" is mainly found
in reported speech.

e.g. If only we knew what was going to happen.

You always thought I was going to die,didn't you?

I knew he was going to regretthe day he had ever written

that letter.

4) The Past Indefinitemay be used in two different cases
which are both structurally dependent:

a) With reference to a future action viewed from the past in
clauses of time, condition and concession (in accordance with the
rules of the sequence of tenses),
e.g. So when Anna was leaving for France I said to her vaguely

that I would look her up when she returned.
Probably she knew that whatever happenedhe would not

give her away.
Itold him if he didn't hurry uphe'd get no breakfast.

Note. In clauses other than those of time, condition and concession, the Fu-
ture Indefinite-in-the-Past is used even if these clauses are introduced by the con-
junctions when and if.

e.g. I asked him if he would stay another week with us.

The time would come when they would all be proud of Tony.

b) In object clauses after one of the past tenses of to see (-= to
attend), to take care or to make sure in the principal clause.

e.g. He knew that Rosalind would see that it did not happen.
Mother took care that I heldmyself well.

§ 53. To sum it up, it should be mentioned that though the use
of the Future Indefinite-in-the-Past, in theory, is similar to that
of the Future Indefinite, its use is actually much wider. The use of
the other means of expressing future actions viewed from the past
is, on the contrary, much more restricted than the use of the
same means with reference to the real future.


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