The Future Tense

The Future Tense :

The future tense is a verb-phrase consisting of the auxiliary verb shall or will be followed by the infinitive without to.

The following table shows the form of the future for each of the three persons (1) in assertions and (2) in questions.

Future Tense

Assertions (Declarative)


1. I shall fall. ….1. We shall fall.

2. Thou wilt fall. ….2. You will fall.

3. He will fall. ….3. They will fall.

Questions (Interrogative)


1. Shall I fall? ….….1. Shall we fall?

2. Shalt thou fall? ….2. Shall you fall?

3. Will he fall? ….3. Will they fall?

Common errors are the use of will for shall (1) in the first person in assertions and questions and (2) in the second person in questions.

In the following sentences the first person of the future tense is correctly formed.

I shall [NOT will] drown. ….….Shall [NOT will] I drown?

I shall [NOT will] fail. ….….Shall [NOT will] I fail?

We shall [NOT will] sink. ….….Shall [NOT will] we sink?

The verb-phrases with shall express merely the action of the verb in future time. They do not indicate any willingness or desire on the part of the subject.

Contrast the following sentences in which I will or we will is used.

1. I will go with you.

2. I will give you what you ask.

3. I will not endure it.

4. We will allow you to enter.

5. We will have the truth.

Here the verb-phrases with will do not (as in the previous examples of I shall) express the action of the verb in future time. They express the present willingness or desire or determination of the speaker to do something in the future.

Hence such verb-phrases with will in the first person are not forms of the future tense. They are special verb-phrases expressing willingness or desire.

In the first person shall, not will, is the auxiliary of the future tense in both assertions and questions. It denotes simple futurity, without expressing willingness, desire or determination.

Will in the first person is used in promising, threatening, consenting and expressing resolution. It never denotes simple futurity.

Simple Futurity (Future Tense)

I shall be eighteen years old in July. [Not : will be]

Hurry, or we shall miss our train. [Not : will miss]

We shall be glad to see him. [Not : will be]

Promises, Threats, etc.

1. I will subscribe to your fund. [Promise.]

2. We will do our best. [Promise.]

3. I will discharge you if you are late again. [Threat.]

4. We will permit you to go. [Consent.]

5. I will have obedience. [Resolution.]

I’ll and we’ll are contractions of I will and we will and can never stand for I shall and we shall.

1. I’ll meet you at noon. [Promise.]

2. I’ll never consent. [Resolution.]

3. We’ll be revenged on you. [Threat.]

When willingness is expressed by an adjective, I SHALL is correct.

When willingness is expressed by an adverb, I WILL is correct. Thus….

1. I shall be glad to help you.

2. I will gladly help you.

Note : Such expressions (I shall be glad, I shall be willing, I shall be charmed to do this) express willingness not by means of shall but in the adjectives glad, willing charmed. To say, “I will be glad to do this,” then, would be wrong, for it would be to express volition twice. Such a sentence could only mean “I am determined to be glad to do this.”

On the other hand, in “I will gladly help you,” volition is expressed by the verb-phrase will help and the adverb merely modifies the phrase by emphasizing the speaker’s willingness. Hence I WILL is correct.

Will, when emphasized, always expresses determination on the part of the subject, even in the second and third persons.

1. I WILL go, no matter what you say.

2. {You WILL | He WILL} act foolishly, in spite of my advice.

In the second person Shall you? not Will you? is the proper form of the future tense in questions.

Will you? always denotes willingness, consent, or determination, and never simple futurity.

Note that in questions in the second person, the auxiliary used is the same as that expected in the answer.

Future Tense (Simple Futurity)

1. Shall you be disappointed if he does not come? [I shall.]

2. Shall you regret his absence? [I shall.]

3. Shall you go by boat or by train? [I shall go by boat.]

Verb-Phrase denoting Willingness, etc.

1. Will you write often? [I will.]

2. Will you allow me to help you? [I will.]

3. Will you be so kind as to open the window? [I will.]

SHALL in the second and third persons is not the sign of the future tense in declarative sentences.

It is used in commanding, promising, threatening and expressing resolution, the volition being that of the speaker.

1. Thou shalt not kill. [Command.]

2. You shall have the hat before Monday. [Promise.]

3. You shall pay for this insult! [Threat.]

4. She shall not regret her generosity. [Resolution.]

In prophetic language, shall is common in the second and third persons, even when there is no idea of commanding or the like.

The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood.—Joel ii. 31.

In military orders and official communications, custom permits the more courteous will in the place of shall in the second and third persons.

1. You will immediately report for orders.

2. Heads of Departments will submit their estimates before January first.

Future time may also be expressed by the present tense, or by about or going with the infinitive.

1. We sail for Havana on Tuesday.

2. They are about to begin the study of Greek.

The Future Tense :

Grammar Index

The Future Tense To HOME PAGE

Related Links : The Future Tense