Tenses & Timelines: Simple Form-Future*

Tenses & Timelines: Simple Future

April 4, 2019

Native English Instructor

Written by Douglas Shaw

The future with “will” is used to describe a single action or event that will happen in the future. We sometimes use the simple present form to discuss future events. Especially, when talking about official or set events that happen at set times such as timetables, schedules, meetings, itineraries.

Tense future

If we think of future as our present at a later time, then we can better understand what future is and when it happens.

Use of Simple future with “will” can be in five different forms


A spontaneous decision

  • Wait! I will help you.

An opinion, hope, uncertainty, or assumption in regards to the future

  • He will probably come back tomorrow.

A promise

  • I will not watch television tonight.

An action in the future that cannot be influenced

  • It will rain tomorrow.

Conditional clause – type 1

  • If I arrive late, I will call you.

Simple Future with “shall”

The future with “shall” is used to indicate future action. It is most commonly used in sentences with I or We, and is often found in suggestions, e.g. shall we go? Shall is also frequently used in promises or voluntary actions. In formal English, the use of shall to describe future events often expresses inevitability or predestination.

Shall -is more commonly heard in British English than in American English; Americans prefer to use other forms, although sometimes shall is used in suggestions or formalized language. In American English, shall is very polite.


  • Suggestion: Shall I help you?
  • Promise: I shall never forget where I came from.
  • Predestination: He shall become our next President.
  • Inevitability: I’m afraid Mr. Smith shall become our new president.


Tense future

When should we use shall and will

Traditionally, shall is used for the future tense with the first-person pronouns (I / We) e.g. I shall / We shall.

Traditionally speaking, will is used with the first-person only when we wish to express determination.

Forming future, you can get away with using just will and forget shall. However, if you need to placate some grammar pendants in formal writing, e.g. Law, then you should use shall when the subject is I or We.

Question form – British and American

Using I or We, you should also use shall – e.g. Shall we dance? / Shall I call you a taxi? If you want to convey that something must happen (typically out of a sense of duty), you can swap shall for will.

People may sometimes tell you that there is no difference between these or even that today nobody uses shall – except in offers e.g. Shall we dance? This is not true.


Refer to the following chart to see that there are two conjugation types for verb will.

The simple present can also be used when discussing daily routines using these.



  • always get up at 5 a.m.
  • never drink beer before 6 p.m.
  • write teaching material everyday.
  • Every Friday my wife and I go to the movies.
Objective final e1507016732653
Objective final e1507016732653
subjective final
subjective final

These days, the use of shall to form the future is becoming rarer (especially in the United States), and it is safe to use will every time, unless you are asking a question (particularly in the U.S.). It might be to your advantage to know the traditional rules in cases of the need to show your knowledge in grammar to the experts.

Forming the future with will and shall (traditional rules)

forming future final e1507090003770
forming future final e1507090003770

Now if something is to happen in the future and you want to convey the idea that it must definitely happen (especially out of a sense of duty), then everything switches. Study the following table to see how it switches.

Conveying a sense of importance or duty with will and shall.

sense duty future final
sense duty future final

Going to

The form going to is normally used to indicate the future. It is often used in spoken English, not will. Found in four different forms.

Use when we want to talk about a plan for the future.


  • I’m going to see her later today.
  • We’re going to have dinner first, then watch a movie.

Use when we want to talk about a plan not for the near future.


  • When we retire we’re going to move to Maluku to live on a beach.
  • In ten years time, we are going to buy property with a beach in Maluku.

Use when we want to make a prediction based on evidence we can see now.


  • You look very tired. You’re going to need to stop and take a rest.
  • Look out! Your eye glasses are going to get knocked off the table.
  • Look at those black clouds. It’s going to rain soon.

Going to go – can be replaced by just using going.


  • I’m going out later.
  • She’s going to the mall tomorrow.


Using going to, is to say something is going to happen when it has already been planned. e.g. I’m going to Bali. – this isn’t really future tense. You would have to say I’m going to go to Bali.

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